Travis returns to lead country fest
Great Woods, June 21, 1998
By Jeffrey B. Remz
MANSFIELD, MA - Randy Travis, Joe Diffie, Martina McBride, Lee Roy Parnell and Jo Dee Messina all graced the stage at Great Wood's Sunday, and while they may take different approaches to country, the one common thread was the fine voices all possessed.
Travis, back with a new label and his first number one song in four years ("Out of My Bones"), is Mr. Tried and True with a clear, resonant baritone always on target.
Travis with an easy going, laid back style, was a human hit jukebox. But that did not mean he just rehashed the hits of his dozen years recording.
The highlight front and center throughout his nearly 75-minute set, was Travis' voice. He infused the songs with energy. It's the type of voice that often was not particularly flashy - neither is Travis, of course - but over the long haul, holds up quite well. In fact, it is something that builds.
Travis kept it country more than most everyone else on the bill, often relying on the fiddle of Dave Johnson and acoustic guitars to set the proper musical accompaniment.
While not exactly the gregarious over the top Garth Brooks type, Travis connected with a few funny family stories.
This evening was a welcome return for the man who put tradition back into country.
Diffie was far faster paced than Travis, but offered a strong, hour-long set. He relied on his hits (after all, he's touring on his "Greatest Hits" disc) with the current single "Texas Size Heartache" thrown in.
A very strong singer with a rich baritone, Diffie has been the king of the country novelty song in recent years. While that can grow tiresome on disc, onstage, that worked quite well with such hits as "Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox (If I Die)" and "Pickup Man."
With strong fiddle playing from Dennis Parker, a local native, Diffie generally emphasized his country roots to very strong support from the crowd.
McBride may be moving somewhat away from country towards a pop edge as her current album, "Evolution," suggests.
But that certainly doesn't take anything away from her voice which she uses to great effect time and time again. She let it out time and again, particularly on the still haunting career song, "Independence Day."
The Kansas native followed that up with another big hit, "A Broken Wing" with a bit bluesy and jazzy delivery.
Unlike all the other performers, Parnell was quite adept musically. He plays one strong, mean slide guitar. Parnell mixes his country with a strong doses of blues.
Also unlike the others, Parnell did not rehash his songs verbatim from the albums. He took far more risks than the others.
But such playing keeps songs like "On the Road" and the closing "Heart's Desire" quite fresh.
About the only criticism of Parnell was that at 26 minutes, the set was far too short.
Local fave Jo Dee Messina opened the WKLB-sponsored show. Like McBride, an influence, she has strong vocal chords. She was probably the least country sounding act, with a rocking sound "Get On Your Feet" had a funky, Latin beat at times with Messina helping out on percussion.
She's a warm performer, who uses her abilities to good effect.
With Travis leading the way, the different faces and strong voices showed their abilities.