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Clay Walker uncorks good time music

Bob Hope Theater, Stockton, Cal., September 19, 2007

Reviewed by Michael Sudhalter

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It was an otherwise quiet Wednesday afternoon in quiet, downtown Stockton when Clay Walker decided to throw a party complete with beach balls, confetti and tales of margaritas in Mexico.

In the late 1990's, before Kenny Chesney had become a singing beach bum, Clay Walker temporarily owned the country music patent on fun in the sun songs, like "Live, Laugh, Love" and "Then What." These songs received the biggest applause during a 95-minute show, but the Texas native proved his versatility with up-tempo honky-tonkers, tender ballads and pop covers.

The first half of the show consisted of Walker and his six-piece band cranking out hits like "Dreaming With My Eyes Wide Open" and "If I Could Make A Living" with little chatter in between.

Walker offered perspective on some of his songs, saying the simple philosophy of "Live Until I Die" reminds him of his grandmother, who died in February. After he played the tongue-in-cheek "Fore She Was Mama," Walker shifted the focus to endless storytelling and solos for his lead guitarist and fiddler.

While talk can be annoying with some entertainers, Walker was charming and funny, plus his band was talented enough that the audience appreciated their spotlights. It was funny how Walker asked his fiddler to play the instrument like a violin and then to play it Irish-style.

Walker said he was proud to have recorded his first and only duet with Freddy Fender, "Before The Next Teardrop Falls," shortly before Fender's death and came through with a strong performance of the classic. He also performed "Fall," a ballad that's the title track of his new album. He called the song one of his favorite three songs he's recorded, but it didn't sound much different than a slew of his other ballads.

Following a rather pedestrian cover of "Sweet Home Alabama," Walker did a rousing performance of his first hit, "What's It To You."

The energetic country-rocker captured the night's theme of good-timing music, whether it be derived from a honky-tonk or a beach.