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Carrie Underwood: great country concert? Sometimes

Verizon Wireless Arena, Manchester, N.H., March 19, 2008

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Carrie Underwood's got a great thing going, and she clearly understands that. She owns very powerful pipes. She has a plethora of number one singles. Her second disc, "Carnival Ride," is an improvement over her "Some Hearts" debut. And, of course, great looks and winning American Idol doesn't hurt her either.

The question is if it all adds up to a great country concert? Sometimes. The answer probably veers closer towards yes if your idea of country is the more rocking, pop-centered variety.

Underwood, decked out at first in tight black pants, a black-and-white top and black high heels, started smartly with the lead-off song from "Carnival Ride," the fast-paced, rocking, somewhat soulful "Flat on the Floor" before launching into the more country sounding "Wasted," one of her biggest hits. Unfortunately, her band did not prove punchy enough and actually underscored what would be one of the problems throughout the evening. It's no wonder that Underwood did not introduce the band by name because this was a serviceable band that could play the songs, but by and large didn't play with a great sense of emotion or feeling. That was particularly underscored when they had to vamp several times while Underwood changed into a new outfit - she had five different fashion looks during the evening.

The emotional component was left up to Underwood to achieve. But, unfortunately, sometimes the band overwhelmed her very powerful vocals to the point that the strength of her voice didn't shine as much as it does on her recordings.

One also wondered how much Underwood owned the songs. Certainly to her credit, she had a far bigger role in writing songs on "Carnival Ride" than "Some Hearts" and did a good job, but that hasn't quite yet translated to always properly conveying the songs.

On the CD, she turned in a solid reading of Randy Travis' "I Told You So." Last Saturday night, Underwood received an invitation from Travis to join the Grand Ole Opry, one of the greatest honors for a country singer, during her stint there.

But in concert, Underwood didn't evince the overwhelming sadness with which Travis fills the song. Keeping the song musically simpler would have helped.

Underwood tends to let her talents come to the fore on slower numbers, such as the closing song of the 100-minute show before a packed house "Before He Cheats." She has clearly demonstrated the ability to choose catchy songs, turning in good readings of "The More Boys I Meet" and her new single, "Last Name," about a one night stand that goes way way too far.

As a performer, one got the sense that Underwood uses the same lines nightly, using such tried-and-true lines as offering to take the audience home because they were so enthusiastic and how she would play all night if people didn't have to get to bed.

Coming from American Idol, Underwood did not have much country cred, and she pretty much has lived up to that. Most of her songs have little to do with country stylistically. She underscored that by singing two Guns 'N Roses songs as part of her encore - "November Rain" and "Paradise City."

No one could have accused Underwood of being hard core country, even though her first concert was Alan Jackson and Faith Hill in her native Oklahoma when she was about nine years old. But cutting the rock edge to the music would have enabled Underwood to more fully meet the challenge presented of going live.

For those who needed a fill of traditional country music, opening act Josh Turner more than filled the bill. The South Carolina native has one helluva voice - easily hitting those low low notes.

And there is no doubt where he's coming from with upright bass, fiddle and pedal steel part of his musical mix. Like the headliner, Turner offered a bunch of great songs during his 40 minutes, including the honky tonking of "One Woman Man," his first hit "Long Black Train" and the religious part of his music with "Me and God." Turner comes across as being confident, easy going and knowing where he comes from musically.

There was no showboating or sense of ego by Turner. He closed with "Would You Go With Me?," another hit. The answer for those looking for his style of music was heck yes.