COUNTRY BEAT: Merle Haggard, Chalee Tennison, Sons Of The Desert …

Haggard releasing gospel CDs; Tennison inaugurates speedway; Sons visit Pirates ballpark.

Merle Haggard will release a pair of gospel albums on May 1. Two Old Friends is a collection of duets with Albert E. Brumley Jr., son of late gospel songwriter Albert Edward Brumley (“I’ll Fly Away”). Cabin in the Hills features guest vocals by Haggard’s wife, Theresa; ex-wife Bonnie Owens; Porter Wagoner; Johnny Counterfit; and Ray McDonald. The album includes traditional material and four new songs, including Iris DeMent’s “Shores of Jordan.” …

Chalee Tennison will sing the national anthem at the first event at the new Nashville Superspeedway on Friday (April 13). After singing at Friday’s debut race, she will return to the track the next day for a morning concert, performing songs from This Woman’s Heart (RealAudio excerpt of title song), before Saturday’s race. …

Sons of the Desert will perform the national anthem for the Pittsburgh Pirates at the first night game in their new PNC Park on Wednesday (April 11). It will be telecast on Fox Sports. …

Funeral services for the late Van Stephenson are scheduled for Thursday (April 12) at 1 p.m. at Nashville’s Belmont Church. Donations can be made to the American Cancer Society’s Brentwood Relay for Life fund. The founding member of BlackHawk died Monday of cancer. …

Lee Ann Womack and Toby Keith will perform live on the 36th annual Academy of Country Music Awards, airing May 9 on CBS. Also performing will be Brooks & Dunn, Billy Gilman and Brad Paisley. Presenters for the show include Montgomery Gentry, the Kinleys, John Michael Montgomery, Aaron Tippin, and Dixie Chicks Martie Seidel and Emily Robison. Former ACM winner LeAnn Rimes will host the event at Universal Amphitheatre in Universal City, California. …

What had been planned as a protest rally by Nashville songwriters against CMT will now be a victory celebration, as the Nashville Songwriters Association International and CMT reached an agreement on Tuesday (April 10) regarding onscreen writers credits. CMT’s initial dropping of songwriters credits on videos, due to technical restrictions, prompted a massive flood of e-mail, phone calls and letters from NSAI members. An announcement Tuesday said NSAI and CMT would meet to “explore solutions to technical limitations … to include the songwriter credits.” The rally will be held Monday (April 16) outside CMT’s Music Row branch office. (Sonicnet.com’s parent company, Viacom, also owns CMT.) …

Mary Chapin Carpenter has released “Simple Life” as the first single from her upcoming album, Time*Sex*Love.

Tracy Byrd raised $130,000 for charity on Friday (April 6) with his Homecoming Weekend concert, bass fishing competition and golf tournament. The event, in Byrd’s hometown of Beaumont, Texas, also featured Bill Engvall, Brad Paisley, Sammy Kershaw and Mark Chesnutt. Proceeds will benefit the Children’s Miracle Network. …

Charlie Robison’s long-awaited new album leads new country releases due Tuesday (April 10). His Step Right Up includes a duet with Dixie Chick Natalie Maines on the song “The Wedding Song” (RealAudio excerpt). Also out this week are Billy Joe Shaver’s The Earth Rolls On, Carl Jackson’s Songs of the South, Showtime by the Statler Brothers, Newport Folk Festival: Best of Bluegrass by various artists, and In the Beginning, a songwriters tribute to Garth Brooks. …

Rick Trevino explores his Mexican-American roots on Mi Son, a 10-song album due May 10. Trevino has showed his Spanish-speaking side before, in his role as vocalist with Los Super Seven. The new set includes two performances with Los Lobos and a duet with Ruben Ramos of Los Super Seven. Los Lobos member Steve Berlin produced. …

Brad Paisley will drop a fishing line for the Hook, Line and Singer Fishing Tournament on April 27 at Nashville’s Cedar Creek Country Club. Other country artists angling in the tourney, which will benefit St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, include Trace Adkins, Cledus T. Judd, Darryl Worley and Craig Morgan. …

Richard Hays, the bass player for the Hickoids, died in his sleep in Austin, Texas, on March 28. Hays, 45, suffered from cardiac arrhythmia. …

LeAnn Rimes will perform at the seventh annual Blockbuster Entertainment Awards, airing Wednesday (April 11) on Fox. She is nominated in the Favorite Song From a Movie category for “Can’t Fight the Moonlight,” from “Coyote Ugly.” …

Junior Brown will open for the Dave Matthews Band on July 25 at Antioch, Tennessee’s AmSouth Amphitheatre. …

Patty Loveless and husband/producer Emory Gordy Jr. are putting finishing touches on Loveless’ return-to-roots album, Mountain Soul, due June 26. Ricky Skaggs, Travis Tritt and Jon Randall guest on the album, which mixes traditional and contemporary songs. Kentucky-bred Loveless re-recorded “The Sounds of Loneliness,” which she wrote at 15 for her debut album. Mountain Soul features covers of Reno & Smiley’s “I Know You’re Married,” Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner ’s “Someone That I Used to Know,” Melba Montgomery’s “Raging Fire,” and Darrell Scott’s “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive.” “I’ve been wanting to do this record since 1992, when Emory and I put a little group together to go play the Carter Stanley Memorial Festival,” Loveless said in a statement. Loveless will tour this summer to support Mountain Soul and Strong Heart, her current mainstream country album. …

Trace Adkins will host the BellSouth Senior Classic golf tournament at Opryland’s annual Celebrity Kids Classic event at Nashville’s Springhouse Golf Club on May 27. The event raises money for charities including Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, Tennessee Lions Charities, Middle Tennessee Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scout Council of Cumberland Valley and Boys & Girls Clubs of Middle Tennessee. Artists taking part include Chris Cagle, Mark Collie, Clay Davidson, Vince Gill, Rebecca Lynn Howard, Sonya Isaacs and the Wilkinsons. …

LeAnn Rimes will host the Academy of Country Music Awards, the ACM staff announced Tuesday (April 3). Rimes was named ACM New Female Vocalist of the Year in 1996, when her career was just starting. The show will be televised live on CBS from Universal City, California’s Universal Amphitheater on May 9. …

Brooks & Dunn have hired country funnyman Cledus T. Judd to emcee their upcoming Neon Circus and Wild West Show. The tour, which will open April 27 in Little Rock, Arkansas, also features Toby Keith, Montgomery Gentry and Keith Urban. …

Dolly Parton will star as the mother of an insurance claims investigator in the Disney comedy “Frank McKlusky, C.I.,” the Hollywood Reporter reports. It will be her first Hollywood feature film role since playing herself in 1993’s “The Beverly Hillbillies.” …
Trisha Yearwood is joined by guest vocalist Don Henley on
“Inside Out,” a song on Yearwood’s upcoming album, due June 5. Yearwood and Henley will also perform together April 21 at a benefit in Dallas for the Yellow Rose Foundation, to fund multiple sclerosis research. Other guest vocalists on the album will be Kim Richey, Vince Gill, Rosanne Cash and Andrew Gold. …

Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Nanci Griffith, Steve Earle, John Prine, Guy Clark and the Cowboy Junkies are among the artists on Poet: A Tribute to Townes Van Zandt, honoring the late singer/songwriter. The album is due in late July. …

Sister Seven will release their Sister Seven Live album on April 10 and then begin a round of farewell concerts, the Austin (Texas) Chronicle reports. They’re scheduled to play April 27-28 at Austin’s La Zona Rosa, where the new live LP was recorded, and then at farewell shows at Dallas’ Trees and Houston’s Fabulous Satellite Lounge. Solo projects are expected from the bandmembers this year. …

Rodney Crowell is contributing a guest column about a song cycle on his new album, The Houston Kid, for the May issue of the magazine The Advocate. In his “My Perspective” column for the gay and lesbian magazine’s annual music issue, Crowell writes about his songs “Wandering Boy” (RealAudio excerpt) and “I Wish It Would Rain” (RealAudio excerpt), which examine the relationship between twin brothers — one a bisexual street hustler with AIDS, the other homophobic. Crowell will appear on ABC’s “Politically Incorrect” on April 9. …

Trisha Yearwood returns to the CBS show “Jag” in the role of a forensics pathologist in May. …

Charley Pride’s upcoming album will be copy-proof, reports the Tennessean. A Tribute to Jim Reeves, due April 17, cannot be copied or uploaded to the Internet, according to officials at Music City Records. They said purchasers of the CD will be able to get MP3s of the songs on the album by loading it into a computer’s CD-ROM and logging onto and registering the CD with a company Web site, which will download tracks to the computer or into a portable MP3 player. The technology is MediaCloQ, designed by Sunn.Comm. …

Dolly Parton and a host of other women singers will grace the soundtrack album for the upcoming film “Songcatcher.” The album, due May 8, also includes songs by Patty Loveless, Julie Miller, Deana Carter, Allison Moorer, Gillian Welch, Sara Evans, Rosanne Cash, Maria McKee, Iris DeMent, Hazel Dickens and Emmylou Harris. DeMent also appears in the film, which is about a musicologist in Appalachia. It’s set for a June release. …

Jamie O’Neal sings “All By Myself” for the opening of the movie “Bridget Jones’s Diary.” The April 13 release stars Renée Zellweger and Hugh Grant. …

Mary Chapin Carpenter’s upcoming album will be titled Time Is the Great Gift; Sex Is the Great Equalizer; Love Is the Great Mystery, which will be shortened to Time * Sex * Love, her record label reports. The long title is a quote from her guitarist John Jennings. The album, due May 29, was recorded at London’s Air Studios in November. Song titles include “The Dreaming Road,” “Slave to the Beauty,” “Whenever You’re Ready,” “The Long Way Home,” “Swept Away,” “King of Love,” “This Is Me Leaving You,” “Someone Else’s Prayer” and “In the Name of Love.” “Simple Life” will be released as a single in April. …

Jo Dee Messina will sing at the finish-line post-party of the world’s largest five-kilometer run/walk June 2 in Washington. The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer’s 19th annual Race for the Cure is part of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation’s ongoing fundraising to provide breast cancer research, education, screening and treatment. …

Mandy Barnett has recorded “The Letter That Johnny Walker Read” (RealAudio excerpt of Asleep at the Wheel version) with Asleep at the Wheel for their upcoming The Very Best of Asleep at the Wheel. Brad Paisley recently recorded Hank Garland’s “The Sugar Foot Rag” with the group for the album, due in late spring. The Wheel opened the George Strait Country Music Festival tour Saturday (March 24) for the fourth consecutive year. …

Slaid Cleaves and a number of other alt-country luminaries are scheduled to play Twang Fest 5, to be held June 6–9 at Blueberry Hill in University City, Missouri. Acts include Deke Dickerson, Roger Wallace, the Domino Kings, Ass Ponys, Charlie Chesterman, Elizabeth Cook, Fear and Whiskey, Rockhouse Ramblers, Star City and the Tarbox Ramblers. …

Don McLean will release two albums in April on his new, Nashville record label. The Don McLean Records releases, due April 24, are Starry, Starry Night, from his recent PBS television special, and Don McLean Sings Marty Robbins. On Starry, Starry Night, McLean is accompanied by the Austin Symphony Orchestra and guest vocalist Nanci Griffith. The 24-track set covers McLean’s hits from “American Pie” to “Vincent” (RealAudio excerpt). Griffith joins McLean for the songs “And I Love You So” and “Raining in My Heart.” The 12 songs on Don McLean Sings Marty Robbins include such Robbins hits as “El Paso” (RealAudio excerpt) and “Singin’ the Blues.” …

Fan Fair 2001 has added the following artists to its roster: Trace Adkins, Susan Ashton, John Berry, Terri Clark, Eric Heatherly, Sonya Isaacs, Lila McCann, Neal McCoy, Jamie O’Neal, Rascal Flatts, SheDaisy, Sons of the Desert, Chalee Tennison, Pam Tillis, Trick Pony, Phil Vassar, Steve Wariner, Mark Wills, Lee Ann Womack and Chely Wright. Fan Fair takes place June 14-17 in Nashville. …

Brad Paisley has recorded Hank Garland’s signature song, “Sugarfoot Rag,” with Asleep at the Wheel. The song will appear on the album The Very Best of Asleep at the Wheel, due in April or May. “Not everybody knows that Brad’s a good fingerpicker,” says the Wheel’s Ray Benson. …

Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams and John Prine have been added to the lineup for River Stages 2001, an outdoor festival to take place in downtown Nashville on May 4-6. They join previously announced acts Bob Dylan, the Wallflowers, Blues Traveler, Joan Osborne, the Black Crowes, Cheap Trick, the Dickey Betts Band, Evan & Jaron, Meredith Edwards and two dozen or so other groups and artists. …

Jo Dee Messina has four nominations in the 2001 Boston Music Awards, scheduled for April 19 at Boston’s Orpheum Theatre. The Boston-area native won Act of the Year last year and is again nominated in that category, as well as for female vocalist, album and single. …

Trent Summar and the New Row Mob will play 15 dates on this year’s Volunteer Jam tour in May and June. The group will join .38 Special, the Dickey Betts Band and the Charlie Daniels Band on the tour in support of its self-titled debut album. “Paint Your Name in Purple” (RealAudio excerpt), the third single from the album, is set to be released to radio. …

Dolly Parton and Rory Block have been added to the talent roster for the 14th annual MerleFest, scheduled for April 26–29 in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. Parton, whose latest album is Little Sparrow (RealAudio excerpt of title track), will perform April 28. Other artists scheduled for MerleFest include Earl Scruggs With Family & Friends, the David Grisman Quintet, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, Sam Bush, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Balfa Toujours, Vassar Clements, Peter Rowan, Jerry Douglas, Donna the Buffalo, Herb Pedersen, John McEuen, Jimmy Ibbotson Chris Hillman, Rhonda Vincent & the Rage, Tony & Larry Rice, Beth Nielsen Chapman, the Lonesome River Band, Tim O’Brien & the Crossing, the Del McCoury Band and the Dan Tyminski Band. …

Steve Earle will headline a contingent of artists taking part in the 500th broadcast of the two-hour, weekly syndicated radio series “Mountain Stage.” Others appearing on the May 4 broadcast will be Jesse Winchester, Bruce Cockburn, Amy Ray with the Butchettes and mandolinist Johnny Staats.

— sonicnet.com staff report