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George Strait remains tried and true

DCU Centre, Worcester, Mass., January 28, 2006

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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More than six years have passed since George Strait hit Massachusetts, and last time around with the Dixie Chicks, Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney also aboard, he did a stadium extravaganza.

But this time, the tried-and-true and steady Strait delivered his brand of Texas honky tonk, swing and country to about 1,000 less than a full house at an arena.

That doesn't mean that Strait's star has diminished as he still is quite capable of topping the charts. But in this day and age of artists without staying power, Strait is a rare commodity.

And in concert, he showed, for the most part, why that is deserved.

Strait, 53, is not the type of artist who will jump around the stage, set off smoke or go for an overtly commercial sound. For those country fans looking for that, they would not have been too pleased.

He wasn't afraid to show that he intends to keep his music on the traditional side of country from the get go with "Honk If You Honky Tonk."

Strait played songs from throughout his long career, including the excellent "Amarillo by Morning," the commercial sounding "Check Yes or No" and a rousing rendition of "Heartland," from the "Pure Country" soundtrack.

With a plethora of material, Strait, of course, couldn't play every hit, and he also ended up going for some that well were under the radar screen. He turned in, for example, a good version of Bob Wills' "Take Me Back to Tulsa."

His Ace in the Hole band remains strong as ever, especially with Gene Elders on fiddle and Mike Daly on steel guitar.

The down side to Strait on this night was that his easy going vocal style somewhat betrayed him because he did not hit all the notes. At times, he sounded more like Gary Allan than George Strait.

On an otherwise strong reading of Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues,' Strait did not even try to hit the low notes, the key ingredient of the chestnut. While unsure, it sounded like Strait may have been suffering from a cold.

But he also closed in very strong fashion with his recent hits, including the mid-tempo "She Let Herself Go" and "She Hates Everything," where he sounded in strong form.

While not the perfect Strait show, one also hopes that this giant performer will not take so long to return.

Tracy Lawrence suffered from the same problem as Strait - his vocals - but even worse. He sounded hoarse throughout. He possesses an easy going style with many mid-tempo songs.

With a greatest hits plus album out in the fall, the show consisted, of course, of his hits, and he has plenty of them to be proud of, including the closing "Paint Me a Birmingham," which drew a strong response.

However, Lawrence also could have mixed it up more tempo-wise. Perhaps the highlight was his strong reading of Merle Haggard's "Workingman's Blues," where he let his band play out more in the most different song of the set.

New artist Miranda Lambert opened with a strong 30-minute set. Lambert first gained attention for being one of the Nashville Star finalists in the first year of the show.

She released her debut, "Kerosene," last March, and it has taken awhile to catch on, but she has now gone gold and has a hit single with the title track. Lambert, a young, pretty Texan, owns strong vocal chops without overdoing it.

And Lambert also has a sufficient number of good songs, though she tended more towards a bluesy rock sound than twangy country. So why didn't she trust her own music, and instead opt for two covers among the seven songs she played?

Who knows? But Lambert at least showed in concert why she may have been the top new country artist of 2005?