Country music videos -- The best long-form tapes featuring k.d. lang, Bill Monroe, and others

Every country song tells a story, so pictures aren’t really necessary. Yet some recent videos have succeeded at expanding the storytelling tradition of country music with imagery that respectfully complements the tales. Here are six of the best recent long-form country videos.

Country Stars: A New Tradition (1988, HBO)
Originally shown on Cinemax, this concert video juxtaposes some of country music’s longtime legends (Bill Monroe, Merle Haggard) and younger renegades (the New Grass Revival, Rodney Crowell). A few of the performers in both groups changed the course of country music for their generations — Monroe inventing bluegrass and the New Grass Revival taking it into jazz territory, for example. Director Sherman Halsey keeps things clean and honkin’. B+

Rosanne Cash: Retrospective (1989, CMV)
Country compilation videos are like pups lined up at the pound — each of the video singles has a different daddy and pedigree, all grouped together for comparison. This compilation, though, with nine selections spanning Cash’s career, is a show of ribbon winners. Except for one live performance, all the clips have concepts that are inventive and stylized (if in some cases self-consciously arty). The individual pieces are linked by Cash’s commentary on the intelligent ”unraveling” of the creative process. A-

The Making of ”Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Volume Two” (1990, Cabin Fever)
The recording of the follow-up to country’s landmark album of 1972 turned out to be the hillbilly event of 1989. The progressive Nitty Gritty Dirt Band joined with the best of Nashville’s neotraditionalists (including Emmylou Harris and Ricky Skaggs) to produce an album marked by warmth and exemplary musicianship. Both attributes come across compellingly in producer Joanne Gardner’s 1990 documentary of the sessions. A+

The Kentucky Headhunters: Pickin’ on Nashville — the Videos (1990, PMV)
Country music’s ugliest ol’ long-haired boys shook things up last year with their debut album, an amalgam of music aptly described in the press kit as ”Bill Monroe meets Cream.” This compilation laces individual music videos with wild-and-crazy repartee. These segments, patterned after the Beatles’ fake-interview segments in A Hard Day’s Night, are sometimes hilarious, sometimes tedious. But the videos themselves are witty, stylish, and zany — the Marx Brothers in cowboy boots. B+

Tear in My Beer & Other Great Country Videos (1990, Warner Reprise)
The most talked-about — if not the greatest — country video in the relatively short history of the genre is surely Hank Williams Jr.’s ”There’s a Tear in My Beer,” a fantasy pairing of the long-dead Hank Sr. — courtesy of old footage with doctored lip movements — and his irrepressible son. Nothing on this compilation, which includes videos by Dwight Yoakam and Randy Travis, comes close to the tape’s magical kickoff — except k.d. lang’s head-turning video for ”Trail of Broken Hearts.” With its brief scene of lang conjuring up a vision of a sensual feminine spirit, this just may be country’s first mainstream homoerotic music video. B-