Marathon finds Parnell, White, Carter, Singletary make it across the finish line
The Summit, Houston, Tex., Nov. 8, 1996
HOUSTON- The New Country Spectacular brought five hot new country acts to the Houston Summit, along with one artist who has been around awhile but still hasn't reached stardom.
The 5 1/2-hour concert was a mixed bag with Bryan White, Lee Roy Parnell, Deana Carter, and Daryle Singletary holding their own, while Rhett Akins and David Kersh were generic.
The show opened with David Kersh, who looked good in a cowboy hat and jeans and played his current hit, the love song "Goodnight Sweetheart." He began the night's most discernible trend - good-looking male singers performing generic new-country material.
Although sound problems marred Daryle Singletary's set, some songs were welcome slaps in the face to new-country trends. "Livin' Up to Her Low Expectations" and especially "Rednecking" are hilarious lower-middle class, rural America songs, the type of songs we need more of. Another new song, "Amen Kinda Love," his current single, is an uptempo, spiritual look at romantic love, the kind we used to hear from Paul Overstreet. It sounds like a sure hit.
Although not the most talented singer in the world or the best-looking country artist, Singletary puts on a good show. If only he'd had more than 20 minutes so he could have done his excellent country legend impressions.
Anticipation was high for Deana Carter, who currently has the number-three selling country album in Houston, and the only disappointment in her set was that, like Singletary's, it was held to a mere 20 minutes.
With her long blond hair, sweet, high-pitched voice, and bare feet, she seemed more like a Sixties folk singer than a Nineties country artist.
Of course, she sang her big hit "Strawberry Wine," a beautiful, nostalgic song that had much of the audience standing and singing along. "We Danced Anyway" is another song about young love that was marked by a pretty mandolin part. The set closed with the title song of her album, "Did I Shave My Legs for This," about a woman who expects a romantic evening, but "Between the TV and beer / I won't get so much as a kiss."
Carter has a good voice and a bouncy, active stage presence, but perhaps more importantly, she's found some excellent songs for her debut album, which should keep her on the radio for the next year.
Rhett Akins hit the stage next and was easily the worst performer of the night. He wore a Garth Brooks-like headset microphone so that he could strut around the stage and pose for the audience, seeming to say, "I know I'm cool, so cheer for me!" His 11-song set dragged, forcing one to wonder why Singletary or Carter wasn't given some extra time at his expense.
His posturing might have been excusable if he had had some interesting music, but for the most part he stuck to bland new country. The two most interesting songs were "Every Cowboy's Dream," a welcome western swing number, and "Love You Back," a simple uptempo song about the pain of loving someone who doesn't return the sentiment.
Aside from those songs, he sang all of his hits, like "Don't Get Me Started" and the closer "That Ain't My Truck," which sound better on the radio than they sounded live.
On the other hand, Lee Roy Parnell, who has a whopping six years of chart singles under his belt (compared with two for Akins and White and even less for the rest) and considerable roadhouse experience on top of that, showed the difference between an artist who's in it for the long haul and a flavor of the month who may have a few number-one singles and a gold album, but will fade just as fast.
He didn't play a single silly song that appealed directly to the teenybopper crowd, like Akins' "K-I-S-S-I-N-G."
He didn't spend his time between songs asking for more applause, and he certainly didn't lead any sing-alongs. He just came out and played 10 songs worth of his great fusion of country, blues, and rock, backed by the outstanding Hot Links band, which also plays on his albums.
His deep, soulful voice seemed to grow stronger and more sure as the set progressed, and of course, he played a mean slide guitar that needed no warming up. He even had the nerve to include an instrumental in his set that featured his keyboardist and guitarist. (What? No saccharine lyrics about young love?) The revved-up closer, "If the House Is Rockin'," was the highlight of an outstanding set.
The final act of the night was the one that many in the crowd had come especially to see. Bryan White, who at 22 is barely half as old as Parnell, had many of the women or, more accurately, girls in the crowd screaming and waving the photos and T-shirts they had bought.
Although he didn't warrant this sort of reaction, especially after the tepid response received by Parnell, to immediately dismiss him as a pretty boy with a bunch of sentimental songs would be rash.
In fact, although White has a thin, high-pitched voice, he used it to its fullest, performing soulful vocal acrobatics near the end of "Blindhearted" that no other singer who had hit the stage could even approach. His acoustic guitar picking on songs like "Look at Me Now" was also very impressive, as was his back-up band.
And whereas Akins seemed to be trying way too hard to excite the audience, White just seemed to be having a naturally good time, bouncing around the stage like a hyperactive kid.
Of course, some of his songs, like "Rebecca Lynn," do have a pretty high sugar content, but White is a genuinely talented artist nonetheless.
Perhaps the defining moment of the night came when White invited Parnell back onto the stage for the closing song, an extended version of the classic "Stand by Me."
During an instrumental break, White introduced his two guitarists, and each played a short solo. Then he introduced Parnell, who looked somewhat surprised but proceeded to slow the tempo and play a simmering slide-guitar solo. He looked back at White at one point, who was standing with one of his guitarists, shaking his head at Parnell's incredible talent. Recognizing the presence of greatness, White just waved at him to keep playing.
The audience, largely made up of high-school students and younger children, was too exhausted even to give Bryan White an encore.
Thus ended the marathon concert. Although the performances were a mixed bag, artists like Bryan White, who have respect for the greats of country music and aspire to their level, offer encouragement that maybe the genre isn't in such bad hands after all.