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Morris sparkles at Coastal Country Jam; McGraw less so

Marina Green Park, Long Beach, Cal., September 17, 2023

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

Day two of Coastal Country Jam featured five mainstream country artists, led by Tim McGraw and Maren Morris, and most all performed admirably well. This event may not have sported the kind of hip alt-country performers always found at Stagecoach, but for a radio-friendly lineup, it was darn good.

McGraw headlined with a consistent set of new and old songs. McGraw was brave enough to perform three songs from his recent "Standing Room Only" album, which is not his strongest effort to date. These fresh songs included the title track, as well as "Rember Me Well" and "Hey Whiskey." This beach-adjacent audience seemed to indulge McGraw's desire to do new stuff, so long has he also performed old favorites, like "Something Like That" and "Where the Green Grass Grows." McGraw may rock out to guitar-heavy songs, like "Truck Yeah," but he also includes plenty of fiddle during his performances. Even a relatively weak overall song selection, such as his setlist tonight, was bound to nevertheless end well because McGraw always has "Live Like You Were Dying," his last song, and "Humble and Kind," his final encore, in his back pocket. These two powerhouses never lose their impact, and tonight was no exception.

The clear highlight was Morris' preceding set. She may have had a recent very public divorce with the country music industry, but her fidelity to her fans is still on solid ground. She is one strong singer and sounded better than ever tonight. Opening with "Circles Around The Town" and closing with "My Church," Morris sure sounded like a country girl. Even her Zedd-collaboration on "The Middle" sounded much more organic than on its dance music original recording. The one song that addresses Morris' genre split from Nashville, "The Tree," was merely addressed as a new song. In the end, tonight was a stellar set from one of contemporary music's best vocalists.

Scotty McCreery, speaking of great singers, was nearly as impressive as Morris. He sang the new "Cab in a Solo" early on and got to crowd favorite "Damn Strait" before the audience became too impatient for it. McCreery probably sang too many covers – even though they were good ones – for an artist of his stature. Even so, his voice on "Forever and Ever, Amen" and "Folsom Prison Blues" sounded fantastic. Only small complaints on that front, then.

Jameson Rodgers also loaded his set with plenty of covers, including a medley of Eagles hits. One might expect this tactic more from the relatively unknown singer/songwriter. Fortunately, Rodgers writes some fine originals, as well, including set opener "Whiskey Train."

Alana Springsteen's day-opening set was the only disappointment this Sunday. Some of her songs, like "Me Myself and Why" show promise, but her consistently too-pop arrangements left country fans hungry for something far more authentic.

As mainstream country artist event, this Coastal Country Jam was well worth spending beach time taking in.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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