ROCKY ROAD

Country and rock stars continue to blur the lines between the two formats

Who's that greasy-haired guy in the hat singing with the pretty brunette on CMT? Why, it's rap-rocker Kid Rock and pop superstar Sheryl Crow, strumming through their tear-jerking, steel-guitar-laced hit, "Picture."

The song has invaded the country Top 25 and propelled Kid Rock's previously underselling Cocky album to quadruple-platinum. "Picture" also reached No. 4 on the pop charts, and another version of the song, featuring Kid with alt-country critics' fave Allison Moorer, has spent months at No. 1 on the country singles sales chart.

Kid has also collaborated with Hank Williams Jr. and David Allan Coe, while Sheryl recently put on her producer's hat and remixed the Dixie Chicks' hit "Landslide" for pop radio and invited Chick Natalie Maines and Emmylou Harris to sing on her most recent album, C'mon C'mon. "If I were sick, I would just put Emmylou on a loop and listen to it over and over, and I know I would be healed," testifies Sheryl, who has announced her intention to make a country album someday.

Kid and Sheryl aren't the only rock hipsters who've decided country is cool. Rock band Cracker has just made two new country albums:

O Cracker Where Art Thou? features mountain-music remakes of their hits, while Countrysides features country-flavored new material. The gold-selling White Stripes loudly profess their idol worship of Loretta Lynn. Rapper Wyclef Jean invited Kenny Rogers to sing on his album The Ecleftic. And pop superstar Sting has long made a habit of writing country songs, including "Fill Her Up" on his latest album, Brand New Day.

Rockers nearly outnumbered country stars on the recent Hank Williams tribute album Timeless, and Elton John, Sting and Melissa Etheridge all turned up to salute their favorite banjo player on Earl Scruggs and Friends. Rock phenoms Coldplay were visibly giddy to be playing at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium recently, playing an ultra-respectful version of Hank's "Lost Highway."

Willie Nelson's recent Stars & Guitars album finds the Red Headed Stranger being saluted by everyone from rock band matchbox twenty to multiplatinum pop-jazz singer Norah Jones, who cites Willie as her biggest influence. And rockers aplenty, from ZZ Top to Elton, are turning up to trade songs with their country cousins on CMT's series Crossroads.

Kid Rock believes that all great rock has a little bit of country in it. "Country and blues is the biggest [thing] ever, and it always will be," he declares. "The biggest bands that ever were had a country and blues influence. That's where it all stems from."

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