A Don Imus record?! ... that I like?!

WARNER WOLF: Also, he's been arrested six times since being drafted by Tennessee in 2005.
DON IMUS: What color is he?
WARNER WOLF: He's African-American.
DON IMUS: Well there you go, now we know.

It's difficult for stuff like that not to make me feel guilty about praising an Imus record — but then there is the whole charity aspect, which eases my conscience, a little. "The CD will benefit the Imus Ranch, a working cattle ranch run by Don and Deirdre Imus, which hosts children who are afflicted with cancer or other serious blood diseases," continues the press release.

Fact is, if you're a fan of classic and alt-country, this CD holds much appeal.

Patty Loveless kicks things off with a sweet-as-strawberry-wine, Appalachian-style version of Stevie Nicks' "Silver Springs" that all but eclipses the original. Lucinda Williams accomplishes an even greater feat by rendering the played-out Willie & Waylon staple "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys" into a genuine cautionary tale. She delivers each line with the lived-in passion of a woman who has perhaps let one too many roughnecks into her bed — only to find 'em gone in the morning. But you also hear admiration in Williams' rich voice, admiration for those outlaws the female singer just can't help but love. It's a majestic performance from the queen of alt-country.

Speaking of Willie, Mr. Nelson turns in a delightfully subdued reading of the jazzy classic "What a Difference a Day Makes," which Dinah Washington made famous a half century ago. The Band's Levon Helm contributes a joyous, backwoods version of country soul great Arthur Alexander's "You Better Move On." And the world's most underrated crooner, Raul Malo (formerly of The Mavericks), crushes on the Charlie Rich number "Life Has Its Little Ups and Downs," a song so perfectly recorded that only a vocalist as gifted as Malo could make good on an interpretation.

Dwight Yoakam's supercharged take on the Uncle Tupelo/Doug Sahm chestnut "Give Back The Key to My Heart" can't touch the sublimely gruff original, but it's a fine performance nonetheless. Same goes for John Hiatt's reading of The Bottle Rockets' Brooklyn Side gem "Welfare Music" and Vince Gill's sparse, appropriately church-y performance of the country/gospel standard "Satisfied Mind."

So, yeah,  I dig this album. The only stinker, and it reeks, is Big & Rich's "Fight for Your Right to Party." Everything else works, or comes close enough (Little Richard's "I Ain't Never.") Fans of Williams, Loveless, Helm, Nelson and Malo will definitely want to give the disc a spin. As for reservations about purchasing a CD with the name "Imus" on it, I can sympathize. It looks like New West Records wanted to distance itself from his recent controversies, as well. My promo copy of the disc reads: "Street date: May 27, 2008."

Tracks & Artist List:

1.  Silver Springs -- Patty Loveless

2.  Lay Down Sally -- Delbert McClinton

3.  Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys -- Lucinda Williams

4.  You Better Move On -- Levon Helm

5.  Life Has Its Little Ups And Downs -- Raul Malo

6.  I Ain't Never -- Little Richard

7.  I Don't See Me In Your Eyes Anymore -- Randy Travis

8.  You've Got To Fight For Your Right To Party -- Big & Rich

9.  What A Difference A Day Makes -- Willie Nelson

10. Give Back The Key To My Heart -- Dwight Yoakam

11. What Happened -- Bekka Bramlett

12. Welfare Music -- John Hiatt

13. A Satisfied Mind -- Vince Gill

That's right, the shock jock will release The Imus Ranch Record through the venerable New West Records on Sept. 16. Confusion struck the moment I opened the package.  At first glance, as in when I spotted the name "Imus" on the jewel case, I foresaw a field day slamming it. But then I read the artist/song-list ... and then listened ... and now I’m in a pickle.

Granted, the album features several misses, but more hits than is typical for this kind of ad hoc compilation. To complicate matters more, Imus the Blowhard also played a creative role in this rather inspired collection. “The compilation was produced by Imus along with Kyle Lehning (Randy Travis, George Jones) and Tracy Gershon (well known A & R executive),” reads the press release. “Imus selected each song and matched it to a specific artist.”

Imus always annoyed me the few times I viewed his televised broadcast. Then, there was that little Rutgers incident last year followed by, in my opinion the even more damning — as in, yeah, he might be a racist, not just an old-timer idiot — comment he made in June regarding the suspension of Dallas Cowboys' corner Adam Jones:

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