KZLA's The Girls of Summer 2004: Wilson, Roberts, The Jenkins, Alexander do girls of summer proud
The Grove, Anaheim, Cal, June 29, 2004
ANAHEIM, CA - Without exception, every performer appearing during this five-act, female-centric new artist concert was impressive, which strongly suggests that the class of 2004 - the girl's side of the equation, at least - is a mighty good one. This group was so fine, in fact, that it makes one ask: O sisters, where art thou been all this time?
Julie Roberts closed this approximately three-hour show with a few solid songs from her self-titled debut album - as well as the truly odd cover choice of The Stones' "Honky Tonk Women." Roberts is at her best whenever she's singing songs filled with unstoppable self-determination, such as "The Chance." Both "The Chance," and her hit single "Break Down Here," were inspired by the close relationship Roberts has with her mother, which she shared about a couple of times from the stage. From the way she explained it, you get the feeling sometimes that Roberts is living out a few of her mom's unfulfilled artistic dreams. And to her benefit, Roberts clearly has the most natural charisma of all the acts on this particular bill, which should go a long way in making these dreams come true.
The Jenkins, a mother-daughter-daughter trio, preceded Roberts with six song examples of lovely familial harmony. One particular selection, "Blame It On Mama," lists a bunch of great songs that this country-music-loving mama 'sang into these girls,' to paraphrase its chorus. It's now been an awful long time since The Judds' last ruled the charts, so maybe these girls will fill a mother/daughter void that has remained vacant for far too long.
You might say that this show saved its best for first, since the three earliest acts were also the most memorable ones. Jessi Alexander, who came along third, brought to mind Bonnie Raitt with her blues-y singing and playing. Helped out vocally and instrumentally by the always welcome Jon Randall, Alexander's set ranged from her single "Honeysuckle Sweet," to a powerful cover of Linda Ronstadt's hit (by way of The Everly Brothers), "When Will I Be Loved."
Since Gretchen Wilson is the talk of the town, at least when it comes to new female artists, she was given the largest number of songs to sing (eight), and was also the only artist to bring along a full band. Nevertheless, she didn't disappoint with such song inclusions as the great cheating number, "When I Think About Cheatin'" and an alternative view of West Coast women (but not that Beach Boys hit, by the way). Oh, and she also did "Redneck Woman," of course.
It may not have been intentional, but Mindy Smith remarked about how good it felt to be a part of the "women" of 2004, shortly after she took the stage. And after singing such serious songs as "One Moment More," which addresses Smith's mother's recent death from cancer, it's quite clear that Smith is not merely making "girls" music. Smith also thanked KZLA for presenting such a left-of-center artist during this fairly mainstream country bill. And she was right, since her literate music is much closer to the Seventies singer/songwriter style or confessional folk. But if country radio picks up on more artists of Smith's high caliber, maybe the future of country music is bright after all.
Let's hear it for the girls, because each and every one of these newcomers earned high praise tonight.