Those who think that modern country music is designed for teenagers and dance addicts will rejoice in the unflinching maturity of Keith Stegall’s new album, Passages. At 41, Stegall finds himself floating aimlessly on the Sargasso Sea of middle-age, where decay is the only constant and reassessment is the closest thing to hope. While the subject matter is pretty depressing, it’s redeemed and ennobled by Stegall’s honesty. In the world he depicts, there are no villains for us to blamejust the bitter realization that youthful enthusiasm can carry us only so far. After that, the heart must yield to the mind for direction. In his accounting of lives frayed by divorce, disuse and unrealistic expectations, Stegall speaks to the entire generation that was cradled in post-World War II euphoria, a generation that now finds itself tacking toward the abyss.
Passages is not uniformly bleak. “Roll the Dice” conveys a sort of what-the-hell optimism, “Fifty-Fifty” is a wry acceptance of sexual politics, and “Every Time It Rains (Lord Don’t It Pour)” is more a catalog of annoyances than a recitation of tragedies. But, for the most part, the album dwells on good intentions that have run aground and dreams that lie broken. Time and wear have reduced the once idyllic “Baltimore Street” to a dead-end of cracked photos and soft-focus memories. With its telling symbol of peace signs painted over rust spots, “1969” is a tale not of triumph but of just getting by. “Middle-Aged Man” is a veritable nightsweat of dread and self-doubts. And “In a Perfect World”surely one of the gentlest, most beautiful cries of agony ever recordedreminds us that, ultimately, we are all too flawed to function within the unblemished ideals we’ve fantasized for ourselves.
It would have been easy for Stegall to turn the facts of middle-age into catchy sermons about how things are better the second time around. But at this stage of self-examination, the first time is still too vivid and its wounds too fresh for him to put much stock in a new round of dreams. This is a time when bright dreams have turned from personal inspirations into stark self-reproaches. The only victory is in letting go.
♦ Instead of officially launching Fan Fair on Tuesday morningas has been the customthe event’s sponsors have scheduled an afternoon of label showcases for Monday, June 10. Opening ceremonies are set for 1:45 p.m. that day and will be followed immediately by showcases from artists on the Rounder, River North/Nashville, Step One and Sugar Hill labels. The Bluegrass Show, which has traditionally been the musical opener, will run 7 to 10 p.m. Monday. The fair concludes Saturday, June 15, with the Grand Masters Fiddling Championship, which runs 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Opryland USA.
The preliminary schedule carries showcase times from all the major and independent country labels except A&M (formerly Polydor), Magnatone and Impact. Nothing yet has been scheduled for Friday, however; in the past, label shows have been held through early Friday afternoon. All the regular Fan Fair concerts will take place at the grandstand stage at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds, and all 24,000 tickets to this year’s event have been sold out. Fan Fair is jointly sponsored by the Country Music Association (CMA) and the Grand Ole Opry.
♦ The CMA Awards Show is set for 7 p.m. Oct. 2. The three-hour show will air from the Grand Ole Opry House on CBS-TV. The day following the show, the CMA will begin its three-day international entertainment expo, SRO ’96, which will be held at the Nashville Convention Center.
♦ Music City General Store, a Nashville company that markets country music merchandise by mail, says that Tim McGraw’s black “Don’t Take the Girl” T-shirt was its top-selling T-shirt for 1995. This is the second year that the company has calculated a “T-shirt index” to indicate country stars’ relative popularity. Last year’s bestseller was Alan Jackson’s “In Concert” T-shirt. A division of Fan Management, Music City General Store markets its licensed products through direct-mail catalogs and magazine ads. It will soon add an Internet Web page.
♦ Dead Reckoning Records is negotiating agreements with music video directors and producers, who will receive video royalties in return for making videos for the independent label at cost. According to Kieran Kane, who co-owns the label with fellow artist Kevin Welch, directors and producers can share potential royalties in two ways: when the individual videos are packaged together and sold at retail, and through performance royalties paid for songs used in the videos. So far, the label has worked out deals with Hands On, Think Pictures and FM Rocks.
♦ Waylon Jennings has signed a three-album deal with Houston-based Justice Records. His first album for the label, Right for the Time, is due out May 21. Instead of relying on radio exposure to sell the album, Justice will resort to alternative marketing methods, including a possible NASCAR tie-in and promotion on the Internet. Jennings is the second “Outlaw” to go to Justice; Willie Nelson released an album, Moonlight Becomes You, for the label in 1994.
♦ Martin Sheen and actor son Ramon Estevez will star in Diamond Rio’s upcoming video, “It’s All in Your Head.” Sheen plays an off-center evangelist.
♦ The Nashville Bluegrass Band, Gillian Welch and Chris Thile will headline the Four Rivers Folk & Bluegrass Festival June 7-8 at the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. The event will be staged at The Homeplace, a “living history farm” on the Tennessee side of the park.
♦ More country acts did more shows abroad in 1995 than ever before, according to figures gathered and compiled by the CMA. The organization says that 99 artists did 734 performances or promotional appearances in 25 countries during this 12-month period. The United Kingdom headed the Top 10 territories, hosting 328 appearances. It was followed by Germany (82), Ireland (64), Switzerland (48), Australia (47), Norway (28), Japan (22), Holland (19), Sweden (17), and France and Spain (14 each).
♦ CMT: Country Music Television will be made available to 100,000 cable subscribers in the Czech and Slovak republics beginning April 1. It will be carried on Cable Plus, the largest cable operator in the Czech Republic.
♦ After a recording hiatus of five years, Baillie & the Boys will release a new album on Intersound this summer. “You’re My Weakness,” a ballad cowritten by Kathy Baillie and Vince Gill, will be the lead single. Gill also sings on the cut. Baillie & the Boys debuted on RCA Records in 1987 with “Oh Heart,” the first of seven Top 10 singles.
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