Recent country releases -- Alanna Nash gives her take on Peter Rowan, Waylon Jennings, Gail Davies, and more

Recent country releases

Peter Rowan Dust Bowl Children (Sugar Hill; all formats)
On his first album in two years, Rowan, whose career has spanned every genre from bluegrass to rock, delivers a surprising set of countrified acoustic folk. Half of the record evokes the Depression era and the challenge of living off the land, the other half the proud spirit of American Indian and the Old West. Rowan crafts songs about the disenchanted and the disenfranchised (”Tumbleweed,” ”Dust Bowl Children”) in a straightforward ballad style reminiscent of Woody Guthrie. Accompanied only by guitar, mandola, and the occasional punctuating harmonica, he commands a voice of uncommon purity, one that alternately shimmies, yodels, and floats into lullaby, and eerily suggests the ghosts of his songs’ characters, silhouetted on the American landscape throughout history. Striking and stirring, with unexepected rhythm and melodic turns, this is a work of quiet beauty. A+

Asleep at the Wheel Keepin’ Me Up Nights (Arista; all formats)
Spawned on a farm near Paw Paw, W. Va., in 1970, Asleep at the Wheel almost single-handedly took the task of reviving the great Western-swing style — ”hillbilly’s answer to jazz” — developed by Bob Wills in the 1930s. Three Grammys and many personnel changes later, the band, led by Ernest Tubb-soundalike Ray Benson, is still turning out fresh and liquid Texas-style dance-hall fare, as in the marvelous ”Dance With Who Brung You” and the hot-picking ”Gone But Not Forgotten,” adding just the right amount of boogie-woogie, rock, and Ray Charles-brand R&B. B+

Waylon Jennings The Eagle (Epic; CD, T)
In yet another album titled after some macho species of wildlife, Jennings employs his road band, the Waylors, and promises to return to his outlaw style of the ’70s and ’80s on the first cut, the dynamic ”Workin’ Cheap” (”Lord knows it’s hard to keep a dance-hall woman happy/When you’re drinkin’ a little too much/And you’re workin’ cheap”). However, despite a handful of involving songs about the anchor of home and the lure of the road (”Where Corn Don’t Grow,” ”Reno & Me”) that are custom-crafted for his persona, Jennings seldom displays his old verve and snarl. B-

Gail Davies The Other Side of Love (Capitol; CD, T)
Davies has recorded for just about every major label, and here on her first Capitol release she continues her stylish mix of country, blues, pop, and blugrass, spiked with Jerry Douglas’ soulful Dobro guitar. As usual, Davies sings of the strength and vulnerability of the independent woman, and on such songs as ”A Love That Could Last,” which questions her generation’s ability to form enduring relationships, she also launches a tuneful search for spiritual centeredness. With her integrity and intelligence as both a writer and producer, Davies has always been among the best of the New Country artists, her soaring, clear soprano cutting a swath through legions of female also-rans. This particular album, though, suffers from too many fillers and too few memorable moments. B-

Le Gran Mamou: A Cajun Music Anthology (Country Music Foundation; CD, T)
Cajun music, the spicy sound of the Acadian descendants who populate southwest Louisiana and east Texas, has experienced a revival in recent years. This collection of rare, remastered recordings made from 1928 to 1941 traces the music’s progression from instrumental fiddle songs to accordion-dominated traditional tunes and finally to the influence of string bands and modern country. Not all the material is sparkling, but it’s worthwhile if only for the forgotten performances of some innovative and influential pioneers: accordionist Amédée Ardoin; fiddler Leo Soileau; and the Hackberry Ramblers, who recorded ”Jolie Blonde,” the best-known Cajun song of all time. B-