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Alan Jackson puts the fireworks in his music

Tweeter Center for the Performing Arts, Mansfield, Mass., May 22, 2005

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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After the concert ended, fireworks lit up the sky, but quite frankly, that was totally extraneous because Alan Jackson certainly had enough pop and sizzle in his typically understated way for yet another evening of great music from perhaps country's best performer today.

The lanky, good looking Georgian with a cowboy hat, delves into different themes in his music - the passage of time and a look back to simpler times of driving a car ("Drive," the ever lively and buoyant "Chattahoochee" and "Where I Come From") or deep-seated relationships ("Living on Love" about his parents and the song of less devotion, "Who's Cheatin' Who'); humorous songs ("I Don't Even Know Your Name," the very fun "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere" and "Little Bitty')and a far more serious tone of searching for answers "Where Were You (When the World Started Turning))," by far the best country song in the wake of Sept. 11). Jackson comes across a s simple kind of guy - he does his thing on stage without a lot of special effects save video screens behind him often showing slides or videos (and actually, he ought to either change some of the videos like on "Chattahoochee" or get rid of them as they've been used on a number of tours already). About the only other effect was smoke that came out during "The Blues Man," a change of pace song sung by Jackson while sitting on a barstool).

As usual, if looking for glitz and glamour and someone who is dancing all around the stage without letting the music stand in the fore, then Jackson isn't your man.

There really was not a weak moment, although he did seem to spend a l-o-o-n-n-n-g-g-g-g time signing hats and other items during the encore of "Mercury Blues."

As if to underscore his modest ego (actually about the only time that came through was during the intro to his going on stage when screens at either showed awards shows with the host saying "and the winner is..." Heck, we already knew Jackson's talent, and no award is going to make a difference), Jackson let his ace backing band, the Strayhorns have their say. These are seasoned vets, who are given some freedom to play out.

About the highest compliment that could be given Jackson is that he didn't get to play a many of his hits (Chasin' That Neon Rainbow," the recent 'Monday Morning Church,") and that the 80-minute show was too short!

Sara Evans preceded Jackson and easily proved she is one fine vocalist. Evans sang a slew of good songs ("Born to Fly" and the recent hit "Suds in the Bucket") and made you realize that she does have a long list of hits to her credit.

But Evans was a bit too loud and rocked too much for a country show. And she also seemed to not have quite figured out what to say to the audience several times.

At the start of her career, Evans sang hard core country, but the days of "Three Chords and the Truth" seem well behind her at this point.

Nevertheless, Evans performed with confidence and a lot of ability.

Showing a different face of country was the opening act, The Wrights. Now it would be easy to dismiss the husband-and-wife duo of Shannon and Adam Wright because Adam is Jackson's nephew, and they are signed to his record label.

However, they sing a type of country that isn't heard very much these days at all except on golden oldies shows - male and female harmonies and trading off of vocals.

Shannon is a stronger singer than her husband, who is no slouch, and he also means a very fine lead guitar.

Unfortunately, they were only given 6 songs and 20 minutes to showcase their wares (and while they did a good version of "The Race Is On," their just released debut is strong enough that they should have played one more song from their album instead).

Nevertheless, the Wrights were quite strong on the country quotient with a sense of humor ("On the Rocks," a song about their first year of marriage) and a lot of strong songs.

Prior to the main event, sponsored by WKLB, a side stage had been erected for early birds.

Newcomer Keith Anderson, who helped write the Garth Brooks with George Jones hit "Beer Run," opened with a good set of rock. He has a nice stage presence, easily joking around without sounding canned, and he and his band with a very strong lead guitarist were entertaining.

The problem was that Anderson lived up to the title of his album out the same day as the Wrights, "Three Chord Country and American Rock and Roll." There's not a whole lot of country there - it's a lot of rock.

Jamie O'Neill followed up with an okay outing. She sings well with a big voice at times, but her material isn't particularly strong. And since she is in the Martina McBride School of Country, she has a tough act to follow.

Maybe they should have followed Alan Jackson's advice earlier in the evening when he played "Don't Rock the Jukebox" and "Gone Country" because Jackson is country music.