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Chicks plus one cool dude with picks make songs stand out

Sinclair Cambridge, Cambridge, Mass., February 4, 2015

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Yes, there were four chicks with picks on stage and one dude (labeled as "One cool dude" in promotions), but the latest installment of a country-inspired in the round was not a night replete with over the top, rocking country as one might have predicted.

No complaints either as this was a night to explore four different country acts from two very young, perhaps up-and-coming acts (Kelsea Ballerini and Maddie & Tae), a local singer/songwriter with a very healthy big time songwriting resume (Lori McKenna) and a more traditional sounding guy with a few hits under his belt. (Easton Corbin).

Under the guitar pull format, the artists went in order while seated on the stage in the intimate club to talk about the songs and then play them. Sometimes, they were accompanied by musicians behind them to flesh out the sound, sometimes a bit by the other performers (although less so than done other times in these WKBL radio-sponsored shows).

Ballerini, 21, is more squarely on the poppier side of country, but with the simpler format, what came across most was her sharp vocals and the songs, where she gave viewpoint about male/female relationships ("Peter Pan" and "Dibs" where she wanted to have them on the guy).

Maddie & Tae have made a name for themselves, thanks to one song, "Girl in a Country Song," which closed out their night. The hit was an answer song in effect to the bro country songs of Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan and the like where women tend to be objectified for their hot looks and oozing sexiness.

But that would not have been enough. Yes, they did a good job on "Girl in a Country Song," which came off as almost playful, but with knowing attitude anyway.

Their songs tended to be on the lower key side with the emphasis on vocal interplay. Their new single "Fly" and "Sierra," a song about a high school bully that Maddie knew back in Oklahoma, both came off well. They don't feel compelled to rush the songs either.

Maddie is a very strong singer with Natalie Maines of The Dixie Chicks as a touchstone. Maddie took the leads and was most ably abetted by Tae on every song with beautiful harmonies, not seen on the female side of country since probably The Wreckers. You just don't hear female duo groups at all. On that count alone, Maddie & Tae satisfied.

McKenna is a veteran around these parts, who has gained far more success as a writer. "Girl Crush" the current single from Little Big Town? That's hers and had the crowd singing along. So is "The Luxury of Knowing," which Keith Urban recorded. While glad he cut the song, McKenna, presumably the most veteran at these pulls, opined with obvious humor that it wasn't quite as cracked up to be as one would have hoped since the song appeared on a deluxe version available at Target.

McKenna always has benefitted from a winning personality, able to make the songs more meaningful with a few stories. That would include her closing "Humble and Kind," described as a check list to her five kids, aged 10-25, about doing the right thing. With relatable, heartfelt songs such as this, McKenna was rightfully well received.

Corbin sat stage right, and he was, in fact, a bit isolated. Unlike the others, he was not outwardly engaged in the music of his compadres. And in contrast to the others, he tended to stand up to play his songs, instead of sitting on his stool.

Of course, this did not particularly affect his music. He started with a song George Strait could have sung, his first hit "A Little More Country That" and bookended that with another hit, "All Over the Road." In between, Corbin played a few new songs ("Baby Be My Love Song") that, while perhaps, not quite as good, still showcased a voice that doesn't put on the twang affect.

Once again, WKLKB offered a divergent night of age, sex and style. The night afforded the audience a chance to see the musicians in a different light, instead of an arena in an anonymous setting. It's just singer and song. And there was a lot of quality on both counts from Ballerini, Maddie & Tea, McKenna and Corbin.

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