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Rhett parties on, but leaves you wondering

House of Blues, Boston, March 9, 2014

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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About half-way through his set as the opening act, tall Jon Pardi commented to the crowd, "We're going to do...a traditional country song. It's a thing of the past, but not for me."

With that the California launched into the mid-tempo "Happens All the Time" from his debut disc "Write You a Song." Pardi, who sang with a tremendous amount of twang for a left coaster, did the song justice. Pedal steel underscored the traditional sound.

But there was a lot of truth to the words of Pardi, one of the extremely few sort of more traditional country artists out there these days.

The fact of the matte was that while Pardi may veer more traditional on his recording, in the live setting, he tended to rock. The pedal steel (at least he knows what one is) was often buried in the sound with electric guitar, albeit often steely, dominating the proceedings.

Pardi benefitted from having a bunch of good songs - they're hooky without sounding overly commercial, and he's got good vocal chops. But sometimes it was hard to tell this was a country show. Pardi well may be walking a tight rope between the tradition of his genre with the marketplace.

The same could not be said for headliner Thomas Rhett, who was clearly and deservedly pleased to sell out the house. Like the opener, Rhett has a good voice - a real nice soulful sounding one straight out of Georgia, but he clearly put his lot in the Florida Georgia Lines and Jason Aldeans of the world who dominate the airwaves these days. In fact, his 70 minutes was filled with heavy doses of rock, disco, soul, a bit of rap and funk far more what used to be known as country.

For Rhett, it was all about having a good time with a bunch of songs about drinking and finding women. The good times included his hits "It Goes Like This" and "Get Me Some of That."

About the only heartfelt song also included drinking, his semi-hit "Beer With Jesus," which reflects on how to live one's life in a conversation with Jesus. While perhaps sounding sacrilegious, the reflective song may have been the best that Rhett sang all night.

Rhett made a supreme effort to include the crowd, asking them to sing in about a half dozen songs. Smart move in integrating the audience and ensuring you have a fan base that loves you for the long haul (at 23, Rhett has done quite well for himself, but he needs the fans like any artist), but it almost felt like he should have done more of the singing himself. It helps to have songs that are tailor-made for singalongs.

That was particularly apparent to everyone when he decided to pick a random audience member from the crowd to sing the third verse of Garth Brooks' "Friends in Low Places." The problem was the guy, who should have engaged in self-control and never gotten on stage, knew very few of the words. Rhett made the best of it and acknowledged - in a nice enough way - that the guy wasn't up to snuff. Oh well.

Rhett has enjoyed a lot of success as a songwriter, which resulted in playing "Parking Lot Party," a song he wrote with the guy who sang it, Lee Brice, and "Round Here," the hit for Florida Georgia Line. Rhett also played another song he helped pen, Aldean's "1994," a bit of a silly song to begin with, even if it does mention Joe Diffie, who was far more of a traditionalist than these guys. Name checking does not always do it.

Rhett closed strongly with "Something to Do with My Hands," a song perfect for Eric Church.

Rhett played the good old southern boy, affable, appreciative. Catchy songs that tended not to cut deep at all unless drinking and women fill the bill. Not a surprise from a guy who sings a song, "Sorry For Partyin'." Rhett was very good at what he does, but his set just left you wondering about Pardi's words.