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Nichols doles out presents

Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, Cerritos, Cal., December 11, 2015

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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After singing a few Christmas songs, Joe Nichols sat on a stool with just his acoustic guitar and played a few cover songs. One was a spot-on performance of Hank Williams Jr.'s "Blues Man." The second - at the request of his manager - was the singing of Willie Nelson's "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground." Nichols announced it as being one of the first songs he learned to play on the guitar. And when he accompanied himself tonight, he even threw in a few distinctively Nelson-esque acoustic guitar riffs. While not Nichols' songs, they transformed what could have been just another stop on his tour, into something truly special.

Nichols' nearly 1- hour set got off to a bit of a rocky start with a sound mix that nearly buried the talented singer's usually strong vocals. Sadly, a muddy version of his wonderful first hit, "The Impossible," was collateral damage related to these problems. By the time the performer got to his holiday selections, which included a nicely western swinging version of "I'll Be Home For Christmas," all was well. Hits in his set included the early "Brokenheartsville," as well as an encore on "Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off," surprisingly traditional for such a big hit. He sang the breezy "Sunny and 75," which he termed California Christmas music, before leaving the stage for good.

Throughout the night, Nichols kept touching his monitor earpieces, which led one to believe he was having trouble hearing his voice in the monitor. Even so, he never let these apparent troubles sabotage his performance; he appeared to be having a fine time, and warmly spoke to the audience between songs. Even while covering Merle Haggard's "Footlights," a song that addresses the challenges performers sometimes go through when trying to be entertaining even when they're not exactly feeling it, Nichols didn't let on that he was experiencing technical difficulties. This concert may not have been the optimal presentation of one of contemporary country's best natural voices, but due to a few choice cover songs, it ended up being a night for a few early Christmas gifts.

Temecula Road, a trio featuring two teenage singing sisters and a male singer/guitarist, opened the show with some sweet familial harmonies. In addition to original material, the act sang a worthy cover of Sam Hunt's "Bottle It Up" (one song in particular that proves there is more to that man than just his silly "House Party" hit) as well as what they called a 'classic,' the Eagles' "Desperado."