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George Strait, Josh Turner, Sarah Johns stay traditional

Arco Arena, Sacramento, Cal., January 31, 2008

Reviewed by Michael Sudhalter

George Strait has become synonymous with traditional country music and hit making consistency. His concerts are known for their no frills approach, letting the Texan's voice and talented, 12-piece Ace in The Hole Band serve in lieu of any so-called special effects.

But Strait showed during a 100-minute show that predictability sometimes goes along with reliability. He played nearly the same set list, save for some new songs off "It Just Comes Natural," as he did during his January 2006 visit to Arco. One would expect Strait to crank out the hits like "Check Yes Or No" and "Write This Down." But he performed the same cover songs he did at that 2006 show - Webb Pierce's "There Stands The Glass" and a rollicking version of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues."

It's hard to believe he couldn't have pulled out some different tunes from the classic country vault. That said, Strait did a pretty nice job of mixing up '80s hits like "The Fireman" and "Ocean Front Property" with more recent songs like "Give It Away" and "The Seashores of Old Mexico." One treasure of any Strait concert is the fiddle at the end of "Amarillo By Morning" and the "Deep In The Heart of Texas" instrumental to start the show.

Strait, however, tested the fans' affinity for all things Lone Star. While performing "Texas," the video projection showed the Dallas Cowboys' Super Bowl Championships. That, in the heart of San Francisco 49ers country, drew the only jeers of the evening.

Strait had no trouble transitioning from a slow ballad like "I Can Still Make Cheyenne" and jumping right into the rousing "Heartland." By keeping the emphasis on the music, Strait was able to perform many of his own hits, capping the night appropriately enough with "The Cowboy Rides Away."

Josh Turner delivered a 35-minute set heavy of traditional country music, equipped with his deep baritone voice. The South Carolina native started with his uptempo "Firecracker" and then spent most of the set in ballad territory. He performed "Another Try," his duet with Trisha Yearwood, but on this night, his wife Jennifer, the band's keyboard player, did a good job of providing background vocals.

The special effects for "Long Black Train," with the seats shaking and the train noises, may have been a little too much, but Turner's delivery of the song was perfect.

Sarah Johns, a Kentucky native who released her debut album last fall, set the tone for this night of traditional country. She has a diverse group of songs, evidenced by the story of her baptism "Muddy Water" to the power ballad "Baby My Heart" and the kiss-off song "The One In The Middle." The highlight of her 25-minute set, however, was the cover of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's "Fishin' In The Dark." She closed the set with the song and gave it a lot of energy.

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