The Great Divide (Lost Highway)
Hot on the trail of his last hit albums, 2000’s Milk Cow Blues and 2001’s family-friendly Rainbow Connection, Willie’s back with a host of songs with a little help from his friends. Rob Thomas (matchbox twenty) adds his distinct voice to Willie’s even-more distinct voice and comes up with a catchy opening track, “Maria.” Other guest appearances include Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt, and Brian McKnight. Really good stuff.
Hank Williams Jr.
Almeria Club and Other Selected Venues (Curb)
The majority of Junior’s latest disc of raucous country was recorded in a South Alabama social club (currently known as the Almeria) where his mother and father used to perform in the 1940s. Smoking fiddle, harmonica, mandolin, keys, and the rest were all laid down live in a small room and the fun the band was having during the month-long sessions shows in “The Good Lord Willing,” “The Last Pork Chop,” and “Almeria Jam.” Insider’s bonus: The 13-track disc includes a scratchy recording of Hank’s mother introducing him at the age of nine as well as “America Can Survive,” the retooling of Hank’s ’90s hit “A Country Boy Can Survive” that he performed at last October’s Country Freedom Concert.
Feasting With Panthers (Lost Highway)
Hailed as a modern-day Van Morrison, this 37-year-old Londoner is the first British artist to sign with the critic-friendly Lost Highway label. On his fourth solo album (he previously fronted the now disbanded band The Blessing), Topley provides a mighty mixture of blues, soul, and rock-and-roll that sounds straight out of The Commitments, minus the cover tunes.
— JAMES E. MAYFIELD