Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
ach Bryan may be about the
brightest light in country music these days when it comes to the next generation. But don't expect to hear the Okie on the country airwaves any time soon. In fact, Bryan is being handled by Warner's Los Angeles office, not Nashville. The business decision west pretty much says it all.
That may happen when your ace band employs a fiddle (Lucas Ruge-Jones) and pedal steel (Reed Connolly), instruments that once upon a time were practically de rigueur for country. Not any more, of course, unless you're like Bryan and care a lot about country's past.
How many artists enjoy the opportunity to launch their career with a triple – yes triple – CD of 34 songs? That was the case with Bryan, 26, when "American Heartland" came out in May. And he quickly followed that with a sturdy surprise nine-song EP, "Summertime Blues," in July.
Bottom line. Bryan more than lived up to the promise of the albums and the positive press he has received in a sold-out show.
Across a night showcasing varying parts of his not very long career (he did release several albums on his before the two different Warner releases this year), Bryan's material was top of the line.
This was not a show with filler. That was even true for the softer, more folk-oriented songs. Bryan's voice – he sort of recalls Tyler Childers - could carry the day, sometimes shifting on the dime to a coarser, grittier delivery in songs approaching rock territory.
The guy has a knack for writing songs that are diverse from a musical standpoint and say something from a lyrical viewpoint. Yes, he mentions whiskey and trucks, but Bryan would never be confused for what has been au courant in contemporary country circles in recent years. There's a reason he's with Warner in LA, not Nashville.
Bryan relied heavily on his backing septet as well and with good reason. Fiddle player Ruge-Jones was front and center throughout, not merely an afterthought. And while electric guitar was in the house, this was not a rock showing posing as country since Bryan only played electric and guitarist Graham Bright also was occasionally on acoustic.
About the only song that fell a bit flat was "Fifth of May," the first encore song. It didn't particularly lack the emotional or sonic punch of everything else.
But the coup de grace ended up being the closing good time party with the boys song, "Revival," which whipped the crowd into a frenzy. Bryan effectively used the song to deservedly introduce his band mates as well as bring back the opening act Charles Wesley Godwin and his band.
Godwin, a West Virginia native, had a lot to offer as well. It's rare for an opener to have an engaged crowd as much as he did, but that, too, was deserved. Like Bryan, Godwin also possesses a commanding voice and quality songs to deliver and was a good table setter for the main act.
His producer and guitarist Al Torrance brought it as well throughout the 45-minute set with a bunch of sturdy guitar solos in another display of a tight band. Godwin easily filled the stage and proved he, too, is ready for prime time.