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Jackson didn't go country, he is country, while Rimes's could be

Worcester Centrum, Worcester, Mass., Sept. 11, 1997

By Jeffrey B. Remz

WORCESTER - In his indictment of those who are looking to make a quick, easy buck off the then-resurgence of country, country superstar Alan Jackson sang, "Everybody's gone country/Yeah we've gone country/The whole world's gone country."

Based on his performance at the Worcester Centrum Thursday, the whole world probably could have been convinced to really go country.

Jackson simply was in top form in a concert that demonstrated the depth of his songwriting and performing ability.

While others out there in the country scene today may pretend to play country, Jackson is the real deal. Schooled at George Jones University, Jackson's 90-minute show mixed it up between slow ballads ("Midnight in Motgomery"), uptempo honky tonkers ("I Don't Even Know Your Name") and rockabilly killer cuts ("Chattahoochee" and "Mercury Blues").

Jackson maintains a simple style throughout. He often has been a laid back performer, who lets his songs do the talking.

Here he actually did a fair amount of talking, especially in his self-described "half-wired" set where the band members came out front in a mainly acoustic setting. (This section was the only part open for criticism, and that was because Jackson usually only played snippets of songs).

The songs themselves may contain simple messages - "Home" is a particular favorite of Jackson's which he wrote for his mother on Mother's Day with the idea that "no matter where you go in life or where you end up, there's only one place that you can call home," Jackson told the near sell-out, enthusiastic crowd of 14,100.

The title of "Livin' On Love" about says it all.

But while in less capable hands, these songs could come across as syrupy, Jackson puts them across with believability.

Dressed in a white hat, cut-off shirt and ripped up jeans, Jackson proved a bit self-deprecating. In introducing "There Goes," Jackson said, "It's been out awhile. I think it's number one this week." Casual.

Jackson was supported by his stellar band, The Strayhorns. Particular standouts were Robbie Flint on pedal steel and dobro and newcomer Cheryl Wolff on fiddle. She only joined Jackson a month ago, but fits in quite well musically and also with backing vocals. He even let his tour manager Tony Stephens blow away on harmonica on several songs.

Confident of his abilities, Jackson let his band shine time and again, giving them some room to play out. This was no paint-by-the-numbers rehash of hits.

"Don't Rock the Jukebox"underscored he is no country singer putting rock in his country, although guitarist Danny Groah put a snippet of "Walk This Way" in it, perhaps due to the presence of Aerosmith's Stephen Tyler in the audience.

Instead, it was an evening that built steadily and surely with enough musical twists and turns to make it exceedingly clear Jackson is no Johnny-come-lately to country. He didn't go country. He is country.

Teen superstar LeAnn Rimes made it clear her forte is her voice. During a generous one-hour set (she can probably thank Jackson for that), Rimes was comfortable with a variety of styles, running the gamut from Patsy Montana's "I Want to Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart" to an a cappella version of "Amazing Grace," from her just released inspirational disc. She always sang accurately and on key.

It is hard to believe someone that young can sing that well.

But Rimes has a long way to go before she matches Jackson. She could use better material. "You Light Up My Life," her first single from the new disc, is no better now than when Debbie Boone scored huge with it 20 years ago.

If she stuck with country (and give her credit for paying homage to some of country's past, including a very different version of Hank Williams's "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry") she probably would be better off.

And almost her entire band was not up to snuff. The playing was almost completely lacking energy.

Rimes herself could use more stage presence as well. She came off a bit wooden and stiff. Hopefully with time she will mature into a complete performer.

Fortunately, she has an excellent starting place with that voice. "Blue" was no fluke. This girl can sing.

About as well as Jackson plays country.

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