Rodney Crowell, Gretchen Peters, Danni Leigh Lead New Releases

Crowell's gritty, autobiographical The Houston Kid includes Johnny Cash cameo.

New albums from Rodney Crowell and Danni Leigh are bright spots on this week's country record release radar, joined by Gretchen Peters' latest, her self-title second disc.

Rodney Crowell hooked up with Sugar Hill Records for his new album, The Houston Kid, his first collection of new material in four years. Crowell financed and produced the record himself, opting for a

fiercely independent approach towards making music for the 12 songs, which collectively paint a picture of Crowell's childhood and the dangerous Houston, Texas neighborhood in which he grew up.

Featuring a guest vocal from Crowell's former father-in-law Johnny Cash on "I Walk the Line (Revisited)," The Houston Kid explores issues of abuse, crime and isolation, all in a series of original songs, including "Topsy Turvy," "The Rock of My Soul" and "Telephone Road" (

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Danni Leigh's second album, and her first for Sony's Monument label — which will also be her last for the label, after she was recently dropped from the Monument roster — A Shot of Whiskey & A Prayer is also out this week, featuring 11 songs, 3 of which Leigh co-wrote.

The record marks a chance to truly shine for the first time for Leigh, who was able to release only one single, "If The Jukebox Took Teardrops" (

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A Shot of Whiskey... , which contains the first single, "Honey I Do," was co-produced by Richard Bennett and Emory Gordy, Jr., the team behind Steve Earle's Guitar Town.

Singer/songwriter and Bryan Adams collaborator Gretchen Peters also releases her second album this week, on independent label Valley Entertainment. The self-titled disc features all new work from the

highly sought-after songwriter who has penned such hits as "The Secret of Life" (recorded by Faith Hill) and "On a Bus to St. Cloud" (recorded by Trisha Yearwood). The lead song off Gretchen Peters,

"Souvenirs" (RealAudio excerpt), has been recorded by Suzy Bogguss, and although Peters insisted recently that the album is "never going to be considered a country album by any stretch of the imagination," because

of her more folk-oriented performance style, there's no arguing the impact her music has had on the country world.

Peters first album, The Secret of Life, is also scheduled to be re-released later this year on Valley Entertainment, including a bonus track, the original demo of her song "Independence Day," which was

popularized by Martina McBride.

Also out this week is a new album from Pam Gadd, who played in the '80s country girl group Wild Rose, and has been featured as a banjo player on songs from Emmylou Harris and Terri Clark. The new CD, Time of Our Lives, released on OMS Records, showcases Gadd's banjo abilities, skirting the country/bluegrass line, and features Marty Stuart on mandolin and Randy Scruggs on guitar.

Other releases this week include the Critter Records debut from Billy Hoffman, All I Wanted Was You, and two collections of older material from EMI Christian Music Group — All Star Jam, featuring Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Glen Campbell and others; and Ralph Emery & Friends, which features a nearly identical lineup of artists.

CMH Records rounds out the week's releases with two new bluegrass collections, Red, White & Bluegrass, featuring Merle Travis, amongst others, and the 24-track collection The Absolute Best of Bluegrass Gospel.