1. DELICIOUS SURPRISE - Jo Dee Messina
Weeks on chart: 2
Style: Half Shania Twain feisty, half Gretchen Wilson crude.
Objectionable material: Casual cursing ("My Give a Damn's Busted"); semi-nude CD-booklet photos.
Worldview: The somewhat forced optimism typical of someone celebrating the one-year anniversary of her treatment for alcoholism ("Not Going Down," "Life Is Good," "It Gets Better").
Overall quality: The big production matches the big voice, but neither hide the obviousness of the formula.
2. FEELS LIKE TODAY - Rascal Flatts
Weeks on chart: 32
Style: Southern-accented sentimentality.
Worldview: "Now I'm rolling home / into my lover's arms. / This much I know is true, / that God blessed the broken road / that led me straight to you" ("Bless the Broken Road"); "She moves a little closer, and she puts her lips to mine. / Ain't it funny how the Good Lord outdoes himself sometimes" ("Oklahoma-Texas Line")?
Overall quality: Here today, unfortunately; gone tomorrow, with any luck.
3. BE HERE - Keith Urban
Weeks on chart: 33
Style: More Southern-accented sentimentality.
Objectionable material: "Tonight I Wanna Cry" (casual cursing).
Worldview: "Right now I'm right where I wanna be. / I've never felt so loved, so peaceful, and so free. / Hey, there ain't no doubt that God's been good to me.
Overall quality: Four good songs (out of 13), none of which were composed by Mr. Urban, two of which were recorded better by Rodney Crowell and Rod Stewart.
4. THE RIGHT TO BARE ARMS - Larry the Cable Guy
Weeks on chart: 6
Style: Redneck Rodney Dangerfield, white Redd Foxx.
Objectionable material: Nearly every joke and routine, of which there are many.
Worldview: That what doesn't begin and end below the waist isn't worth making jokes about.
Overall quality: The few (and very far-between) inoffensive bits and Larry's conservative bent notwithstanding, this album will leave even those who catch themselves laughing feeling the need for a bath.
5. HERE FOR THE PARTY - Gretchen Wilson
Weeks on chart: 52
Style: Trailer-park country that breaks down along saint-sinner lines.
Objectionable material: "Redneck Woman," the title cut (casual cursing, slatternly white-trashiness).
Worldview: "Now, honey, I'm a Christian, but if you keep it up, / I'm gonna go to kickin' your pretty little butt" ("Homewrecker").
Overall quality: The silver lining: this album's success has reportedly forestalled the release of Ms. Wilson's already-recorded follow-up.
In the spotlight
Like Ted Nugent, Larry the Cable Guy scores so many direct and indirect hits against political correctness that it's tempting to overlook his bottom-feeding proclivities. Unlike Mr. Nugent, however, whose guitar solos provide respite from his moral obtuseness, and unlike Ron White, who along with Larry puts the "blue" in the Blue Collar Comedy Tours but who can string together a sequence of non-offensive jokes, Larry never surfaces for air. Were aliens to encounter his humor in a time capsule millennia hence, they would conclude that 21st-century man was nothing more than the sum of his sexual and excretory functions.
Equally disheartening is that, in being granted space on Billboard's country "music" charts, The Right to Bare Arms (Warner Bros.) takes up a slot that could, at least in theory, be occupied by a country album truly deserving of the publicity. (Chely Wright's The Metropolitan Hotel comes to mind.) Compared to Larry, Laura Bush cracking Desperate Housewives jokes seems tame indeed.