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The Wheel, Mattea show quality overcomes size

The Roxy, Boston, Mass., July 13, 2000

By Jeffrey B. Remz

BOSTON - The crowd was not exactly breaking down the doors to get into see Kathy Mattea and Asleep at the Wheel, but that did not mean the veteran performers slacked off one bit.

While Tim and Faith and the Dixie Chicks may be selling out wherever they go, Mattea and The Wheel acquitted themselves quite fine thank you before a crowd of maybe 300 people, less than a quarter of a house.

The Wheel has been doing their brand of western swing for almost three decades. And that doesn't mean lead singer and the man who is The Wheel, Ray Benson, or his ultrahot backing band has grown stale and tired of the same old Bob Wills tunes or any others for that matter over the years.

AATW has been riding high since last summer when they released their second Bob Wills tribute album, "Ride With Bob." And they delved into the disc with the opening "Cherokee Maiden," "Roly Poly" (sans the Dixie Chicks who help out on the album) and "End of the Line."

That is not the sum total of the band. "Route 66" sounds fresh and lively. They changed pace with "Tumblin' Tumbleweeds" and particularly with a slow and decidedly different version of "Red River Valley." This is not a band that is content with just dishing out the tried and true. They push the envelope.

While Benson spearheads the group, this is one band that can play. Fiddler Jason Roberts, pedal steel player Cindy Cashdollar, sax man Michael Francis and timekeeper David Sanger were particular standouts. They play with abandon, reigned in every once in awhile by Benson, but they were cooking on high temp on this gig.

Mattea had a tough act to follow. Her new disc, "The Innocent Years," finds her veering a bit more towards the folky side of country. And with it, she has not gotten very much airplay.

But that didn't stop Mattea from putting on a warm, on target performance during her 80-minute set.

Mattea's strength is her voice. It is powerful without oversinging like some of her contemporaries a la Trisha Yearwood at times. She has range and supreme control.

That is quite useful in delivering her standards like "18 Wheels and a Dozen Roses" and particularly the heart rendering "Where've You Been," tracing the history of an aging couple.

Mattea's songs aren't for the crowd looking for light-hearted love songs. Instead, they are built for a mature crowd. "Calling Your Name," about the mystical quality of love, embodies that.

The topics were not serious throughout. To wit, her new single, Don Henry's "BFD," where Mattea tells of a love affair punctuated by verses filled with acronyms. Mattea's delivery was cute and on target.

Mattea also showed her lighter side with a soaring version of Gillian Welch's "Rocket 455."

Mattea was backed by a solid band, particularly Chris Carmichael on fiddle.

The crowd may not have been out in force, but that did not prevent the cream of Asleep at the Wheel and Kathy Mattea from rising to the top.

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