Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
t took a long time for Morgan Wallen to launch a full-blown tour after the huge commercial success of his double-CD sophomore release "Dangerous" in January 2020. Of course, he has himself to blame, in part, for using the N word, and then there was COVID.
But in this country of comebacks and second chances, Wallen may have had something to prove musically (he did not address his N-word incident at any level in concert) – that he could mount a big venue headlining tour.
For Wallen, success. Taking a huge gamble with a double, "Dangerous" was a big leap forward for the east Tennessee singer. And he rested tonight on the laurels of "Dangerous" with 13 songs alone from the release and three new songs released this year.
Yet, the concert was bookended with the two biggest hits from "If You Know," starting with "Up Down" and sending the crowd home with "Whiskey Glasses."
There's a lot more to Wallen than the hits. He's a hometown boy, a self-described "big time mama's boy," he said in introducing "Thought You Should Know," dedicated to his mom and released around Mother's Day this year.
Wallen seems to care a lot about the small-town life with such songs as the ultra catchy "More Than My Hometown," the mid-tempo ballad "Still Goin' Down" where he sings "I'm from a small town, Southern drawl crowd" and the big hit "Sand in My Boots." He may want the girl, but Sneedville, Tenn. is tough competition. The latter found Wallen at the piano, performing the solo. It was perhaps theSo was a three-song acoustic set where he and his guitarist performed way back in the seats. Wallen established a level of musical street cred a few years back with his cover of Jason Isbell's "Cover Me Up." His earnest reading here satisfied as well. And he performed ERNEST's "Flower Shops," even though he's the duet singer on the hit.
Wallen was not an over-the-top performer filled with charisma and great stories. He's the kind of singer who thanked his family for their support – his father gave him his first guitar – and having faith in him.
Yeah, he runs about the stage, slaps hands, sings autographs throughout (that's what country singers do after all, though seemingly less than they used to) and ultimately connected with the crowd through his songs. The crowd was on its feet the entire 100 minutes and sure did a lot of singing along.
Wallen occasionally went harder ("Country A$$ Shit"), but that was more the exception. His impassioned vocals sometimes gave songs a particular jolt as well.
Wallen's time may have been a long time coming. Or not. "When we started, we weren't looking to play for this many people," he acknowledged at one point. Not that Wallen's complaining. As he showed tonight, musically, he's earned his time in the spotlight.
HARDY came to Nashville as a songwriter, but he is making a name for himself as a performer. HARDY is not exactly a dyed-in-the-cotton country singer. It's more the songs that make the performer country. Then again, with the changing face of country, anything goes.
Starting with his latest release, the metallic "SOLD OUT" was ample proof of that the Mississippi native is not strictly country.
HARDY may come across as being all about the good times, shotgunning beer a few times during the night. But, at heart, he really is a great songwriter, one of the best out there today.
Like the best songwriters of the country variety, he paints pictures with his lyrics. Songs like the excellent sing-along "Unapologetically Country As Hell" and "Rednecker," both testaments to his Mississippi roots, were proof.
HARDY's not the most technically perfect of singers, but the quality of his songs more than makes up for that. And it is songwriting that HARDY relies upon.
There's an authenticity about HARDY. And when it comes to being a musician that counts for an awful lot.
Kameron Marlowe, a North Carolina releasing his major label debut on Aug. 26, started the festivities with a short, somewhat satisfying set. Too many of the songs fell into the same musical territory – nothing special and a bit generic.
Marlowe is a good singer with a soulful inflection in his delivery. He particularly excelled on an early cover of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" and the wonderful ballad "Strange Hearts" from his upcoming release. So, Marlowe made you think there's potential there.
By the way, kudos for Wallen for his dress as well. He sweat through his gray t-shirt and wore jeans. He is who he is. That's in contrast to Marlowe and HARDY, who felt compelled to wear Red Sox jerseys. Staying true to roots works.