Veteran acts use ploys to get back in spotlight

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When his "Modern Times" debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 last week, 65-year-old Bob Dylan became the oldest artist to top the album chart.

Dylan benefited from associations with iTunes and Starbucks; over the past two years, the pump was primed by the musician's memoir "Chronicles Volume 1," Martin Scorsese's documentary "No Direction Home" and the launch of Dylan's droll XM Satellite Radio show.

Most performers at or nearing retirement age aren't as fortunate. These so-called "heritage acts" -- especially country and R and B performers -- can't catch a break at radio, and few command the media respect Dylan has received.

A raft of seasoned performers have just released or will soon issue new albums, attempting to grab the limelight before the fourth-quarter rollout pushes younger acts to the forefront. Virtually all these vets are working tried-and-true gambits to lure listeners. To wit:

? Sing some standards. Well, it worked for Rod Stewart. This ploy is ancient: As Natalie Cole, no stranger to the standards route, noted Tuesday in the Los Angeles Times, "The room is getting crowded." Some still give it a try. Motown great Smokey Robinson, 66, dropped his standards set "Timeless Love" in June. It's an idiosyncratic package: Smokey whips out the jazz version of "I'm in the Mood for Love," grafts Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" to the like-named Cahn-Styne ballad and sings part of "Night and Day" in Italian.

? Work with the young'uns. Willie Nelson, 73, cut a standards album (1978's "Stardust") long before it was a career-resuscitating move, so he had to try something else. His solution: making an album with country-rock rebel Ryan Adams. "Songbird," due Oct. 31, finds Nelson recutting old tunes and essaying Fleetwood Mac (honest!), Gram Parsons and Leonard Cohen. Given the roughness of some vocals, respectful producer Adams probably should have said at some point, "Uh, Willie, can we maybe get one more take?"

? Invite beaucoups guests. Hey, it plays. R and B titan Solomon Burke, 66, brought on Dolly Parton, Gillian Welch, Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris and Patty Loveless for his country album "Nashville," out Sept. 26 (HR 8/24). "Overnight Sensational," the new album by 70-year-old Sam Moore of Sam and Dave, boasts cameos by Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Jon Bon Jovi and Mariah Carey, among others. Swamp fox Tony Joe White, 63, roped Mark Knopfler, Eric Clapton, J.J. Cale and Michael McDonald for "Uncovered," out this week; he even duets posthumously with Waylon Jennings. Tony Bennett, 80, corraled 15 stars, including Bono and Paul McCartney, for "Duets: An American Classic," out Sept. 26. But the divisional champ is Jerry Lee Lewis, who turns 71 three days after the Sept. 26 release of "Last Man Standing"; that album sports 22 who's-who guest shots -- Springsteen, the Stones, Ringo, Willie, B.B., Merle, etc. What Kid Rock is doing in that company is anyone's guess.

? Do what comes naturally. Some old-schoolers dragooned a couple guests but basically stuck with the tried-and-true. Thus, 65-year-old New Orleans icon Aaron Neville drafted Mavis Staples and Chaka Khan for his Tuesday release "Bring It on Home" but goes with interpretations of classic soul. Bob Seger, 61, has Kid Rock (what's with that guy?) and Loveless on board for "Face the Promise," his first album in 11 years, but splits the album between Detroit grit and big ballads. Sometimes, meat and potatoes work just fine.
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