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From the Country Standard Time Archives

Tillis outdoes female counterparts Carter and Morgan

Tinley Park, Ill., Aug. 18

By Brian Wahlert

TINLEY PARK, IL - On most country tours, the female artist is used to contrast with the bigger star, the male headliner.

Garth Brooks has used numerous female openers, for instance, from Martina McBride to Alison Krauss. The few female artists who are popular enough to headline their own tours invariably hire male artists as their opening acts.

Thus, it's quite a change in country music to see a tour of all female artists - not just two, in fact, but three - Carlene Carter, Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan - in the same show!

These three singers also happen to be three of the most well-bred country singers on the radio today, and all three hearkened back to country's roots at some point during their shows.

Despite her white leather mini-skirt and high-heeled shoes, Carter was a bundle of energy throughout her 35-minute set, prancing around the stage and dancing to her music the entire time.

Unfortunately, the music never matched up to Carter's stage antics.

On record she uses an incredible variety of instruments, but she only brought a three-man band with her to the show, comprised of two guitars and percussion. Thus, any song that has rich layers of instrumentation on record was stripped down to basic guitar rock, with disappointing results.

She still managed to get the crowd singing along to her two infectious, most recognizable hits, "Every Little Thing" and "I Fell in Love," but the highlight of her set came before those two closing songs.

Backing herself up on acoustic guitar, she peformed "Me and the Wildwood Rose," a song about her family, country's famous Carter Family. For just one song, Carter proved that she is also a talented artist, not just a good dancer.

After about a 20-minute break, the stage crew had successfully erected Pam Tillis's simple but pretty stage set, made to look like an old-fashioned train station. Tillis' hour-long set was light years beyond Carter's.

Early on, she focused on songs off her latest album, performing all three hit singles. "The River and the Highway" is one of the prettiest songs to come out of Nashville this year, and the combination of a gorgeous melody, imagery-packed lyrics and Tillis's angelic voice made it a standout.

Next, she performed the classic country portion of her show, which consisted of Hank Williams's "Honky Tonkin'" and one of the greatest hits by her dad, Mel Tillis, "I Ain't Never."

Unfortunately, between those two songs, the power went out on stage, and her beautiful stage was lit only by spotlights and emergency lights. After three songs, Tillis left the stage, promising to come back when the problems were solved.

After a half-hour break, Tillis launched right into "Cleopatra, Queen of Denial," complete with silly Egyptian dance moves; "Maybe It Was Memphis," which drew a standing ovation; and "Mi Vida Loca." When the crowd drew her back onto the stage for an encore, she performed her gospel song "Till All the Lonely's Gone."

Throughout her set, Tillis showed off one of the purest, most beautiful voices in country music today and an excellent backup band. She had some entertaining choreography in her set, but it never got in the way of the music. She would prove a nice balance between the ladies before and after her.

After another twenty minutes, Morgan's amazing stage was ready. Made to look like the interior of a very expensive house from about 50 years ago, it had windows with curtains, a curving staircase that Morgan used to enter the stage, an antique radio, and a piano that held photos of Morgan's family.

Morgan's shimmering white evening gown matched the elegance of her stage, but, unfortunately, her hour-long show was too much elegance and not enough fun.

She left out such uptempo hits as "Except for Monday," "Watch Me," and "Five Minutes" and instead favored ballads from her latest album, "Greater Need."

To compound the problem, Morgan has a cold, calculated stage presence that makes the audience feel as if her show doesn't contain an ounce of spontaneity. Despite her mini-skirt, Carter closed her show with a cartwheel - you would never see anything of that sort from Morgan.

One of her set's highlights came when Jon Randall appeared on stage to sing "By My Side." Even that duet appeared pre-programmed, however, as the two singers looked out at the audience for most of the song but turned to face each other at exactly the same point in each chorus.

Morgan obviously doesn't have the beautiful voice of Tillis, and perhaps to cover it up, she had way too much echo placed on her vocals. That echo, combined with the too-loud drums and bass, made the lyrics to her songs extremely difficult to understand.

Of course, the crowd went crazy when Carter and Tillis joined Morgan on stage to sing a few songs, including the Carter Family's "Will the Circle Be Unbroken." After that, the only truly moving song was "Something in Red," which was Morgan's last song before her encore.

Morgan needs to lighten up and let herself, and her audience, have a little fun.