Alana Nash reviews recent releases from Prairie Oyster, Doug Stone, and others

The latest in Country music

Prairie Oyster Different Kind of Fire (BMG/RCA; all formats)
The Canadians are coming! The Canadians are coming! Or at least that’s what you might think, what with the dust kicked up by Cowboy Junkies and now the probable splash of Prairie Oyster, another Toronto-based band with an eye on America and an ear toward Nashville. Unlike the Junkies, who take ”low-key” to the cadaver level, Prairie Oyster is full of gusto, drawing on almost every traditional and modern genre from early Elvis rockabilly (”Lonely You, Lonely Me”) to Tex-Mex arrangement (”Something to Remember You By”) to ’50s hillbilly boogie (”Goodbye, So Long, Hello”). However, the most impressive aspect of this album is not its diversity but the artful integration of styles within each song: ”Meet Me on the Corner,” for example, evolves as a down-home salute to Dire Straits. While lead singer Russell deCarle has an engaging immediacy, he doesn’t sound as if he has lived the songs, and he delivers them with a certain condescending ”camp” quality, especially when hitting a lyric such as ”even Vincent Van Gogh couldn’t paint you back into my world.” Still, no amount of attitude can spoil this delightful stew of sound, aimed more at the country-rock crowd than the trailer-park set. A

Doug Stone Doug Stone (Epic; CD, T)
New male singers have a better chance of making it these days if they sound like someone who already has. With that criterion, Georgia native Doug Stone seems bound for glory. A romantic hard-country singer who falls stylistically between Randy Travis and Ricky Van Shelton, Stone, with his earnest good looks, was probably signed to Epic as an answer to RCA’s Clint Black, although traces of almost every significant male vocalist show up in his likable baritone. Stone has a winning way with deep-dish funk, but he also serves up first-rate ballads, including ”I’d Be Better Off (in a Pine Box),” a great country song about running into an old love and her new beau, in which the anguished singer declares, ”I think I’d rather die and go to hell and face the devil/Than to lie here with you and him together on my mind.” B+

Tim Mensy Stone by Stone (Columbia; CD, T)
Good writing is the major strength of Tim Mensy, a Virginian who has contributed songs to albums by Sweethearts of the Rodeo and Shenandoah. But Mensy is also a soulful interpreter of his own material, and on Stone by Stone he demonstrates an uncanny vocal resemblance to John Anderson. The singer, who suffered seven operations to overcome a childhood hearing disorder, rides high on gritty country blues and boogie, handing out admonitions on marital cheating (”Fork in the Road”) and idle gossip (”You Can’t Throw Dirt”), and crafting quotable country lyrics (”She walks through the bar with a bad case of lonely on her face”). Mensy also offers the best personal advice this side of Ann Landers: ”Girl don’t shop for groceries when you’re hungry/That’s the wrong way to find Mr. Right.” B+

Jann Browne Tell Me Why (Curb; CD, T)
Why is it that so many good women singers have to move to California to be discovered? After logging 11 years in West Coast honky-tonks, the Indiana-born Browne arrives on her major-label debut with a full-fledged fixation on Emmylou Harris — another singer who entered Nashville through L.A. Browne, whose traditional/country-rock style emulates Harris during her Luxury Liner period, seals the association by employing three members of Harris’ Hot Band (including producer Steve Fishell), recording a song written by Harris’ husband, Paul Kennerley, and finally bringing Harris herself in for harmony vocals. Imitation aside, Browne has a spritely soprano and a good feel for roots-pure interpretation, and her writing (”Louisville,” ”Ain’t No Train”) is lively and fresh. B+

Lacy J. Dalton Lacy J. (Capitol; CD, T)
Lacy J. Dalton, a Pennsylvanian who moved to Santa Cruz two decades ago, has been making records since 1980, but never so cohesively as Lacy J. Originally packaged as a female Waylon Jennings, Dalton has finally shed that ”outlaw” label to reveal her true-life, strong-but-sensitive persona. Here, she turns her corduroy voice to a relaxed collection of ballads and country-rock, dispersing folky wisdom (”Long Way Down”) and ruminations on rocky romance (”Black Coffee”). B+