Wynette struggles, while Singletary proves to be the real deal
Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, Cerritos, Cal., Feb. 28, 1998
CERRITOS, CA - The stage was set at the far end of this extravagantly decorated auditorium; a hall more suitable, with it's private boxes lining either side up to the rafters, for an opera than for some down home country music.
Have no fear, though, because Tammy Wynette's classy musical presentation easily adapted to these fancy-schmantzy surroundings. She strolled onto the stage dressed in a tasteful pink suit, and before she even began to dig into her deep well of country hits, she apologized for having a small case of the sniffles, as well as for hobbling on a bad ankle.
But for a woman who had just recently been sidelined by an illness serious enough to have kept her attached to life support for five days, allowing her to spend a good part of the evening perched upon a stool was a small concession.
Wynette's set included most of the big hits, including "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad" (without any hint of irony from this senior citizen of country music), "D.I.V.O.R.C.E," and "Apartment #9."
Although her eight-piece band sometimes threatened to overwhelm her, Wynette's voice sounded in fine form. It's always such a treat to hear that little catch in her voice. This distinctive vocal nuance has always given even her "pop" recordings enough of a country foundation to prevent these string sweetened confections from alienating her hardcore followers.
The show's momentum was halted abruptly, though, when Wynette unwisely turned over the stage to her band. After letting rhythm guitarist Charlie Carter take a turn, next came a number performed by her back-up singer, followed by a group sing-along from the whole band.
This interruption hit its lowest ebb when Wynette came back on stage, only to introduce her bus driver/aspiring singer to the audience for a song. Although this young man-dressed casually in a work shirt and a baseball cap-isn't such a bad singer, concert attendees certainly didn't slap down up to $45 to hear a country legend's bus driver croon.
Wynette closed with a reverent "How Great Thou Art" before getting to her best known song, "Stand By Your Man," dedicated this evening to another First Lady, Hillary Clinton.
And though this was a funny quip, much of Wynette's other jokes, including a few sharp barbs at her ex-husband George Jones (whom she referred simply as Jones), sounded rehearsed and uninspired.
Rehearsed and uninspired are probably the best two words to describe this evening's performance. Being that Wynette seemed under the weather from the outset, one gets the impression that the singer was laboring just to put in a night's work.
Nonetheless, that distinctive voice often rose above these perceptibly laborious obstacles, and Wynette on a bad night is still a worthwhile outing for anybody versed in country music history.
The spectacular singing of Georgia born Daryle Singletary opened this show. Starting with "The Real Deal" from his just released "Ain't It The Truth," Singletary proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that when it comes to being an authentic country music voice, he is indeed the real deal.
He introduced the hilarious new "I Live For You" as a song he'd commissioned Dewayne Blackwell (writer of Garth Brooks' breakthrough hit "Friends In Low Places") to write for Singletary, in hopes that it will have the same magical effect on his career as it had upon Brooks'. The song had the audience laughing out loud to such lines as: "I'd swim the deep blue swimmin' pool/Climb the highest barroom stool/Brave the raging waters/Of a hot tub or Jacuzzi" Instead of dying, like the poets say they'd do.
Thrill-seeker, Singletary may not be, but he most certainly is a great young singer whose voice can easily sink to the deep blue lengths of the vocal range, and then climb up to its higher registers, without so much as a struggle.
These natural skills were especially on display when he took on "The Race Is On," a hit for one of his personal heroes, George Jones. And then just for fun, he slowed this speeding standard down to coasting MPH midway through it, and sang it like old Jones would have, had he ever been so inclined to do this one as a ballad.
Another highlight was the tear-inducing ballad called "You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet," the story of a man who may have wished for peace and quiet in his younger days, only to find the silence of being parted from his family to be unexpectedly deadly and an unenviable stillness.
In the end, this was both a night to see a country legend perform like a real trouper, under difficult circumstances, and an opportunity to hear one of country music's brightest new voices.