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From the Country Standard Time Archives

Adkins opens, but is head and shoulders above Byrd

Houston Astrodome, Houston, Feb. 21, 1998

By Brian Wahlert

HOUSTON - As if country fans didn't have a hard enough time differentiating between male hat acts who sound the same and look the same, now they're even named the same! Saturday's matinee show at the Rodeo featured two similarly named hat acts, Trace (Adkins) and Tracy (Byrd).

Fortunately, another Tracy (Lawrence) was left off this bill, although he'll play at the Rodeo later on.

After the show, however, country fans should have no trouble telling Adkins from Byrd. Opening act Adkins has one of the deepest voices on country radio, a strong, booming baritone that leaves no doubt who's singing. Headliner Byrd, on the other hand...well, he's just another hat act.

Adkins opened his show with "Big Time," the title cut from his second album, and from the start he had the women in the audience eating out of his hand. He didn't play a guitar on that song, so he was free to move around the stage, shake his hips and make grandiose arm gestures, just like in his latest video.

The audience seemed less impressed by Adkins' real talents, however. After all, quite a few country artists can draw screams by shaking their hips, but many can't sing or write songs to save their lives. Adkins can do all three.

Next he sang "There's a Girl in Texas," his first hit song, and thanked the crowd for the past year. "It's been a wild ride," he said. "It's been like a rodeo for us!"

Adkins introduced "I Can Only Love You Like a Man" as his favorite song off his platinum-selling debut, "Dreamin' Out Loud." It's a pretty power ballad about doing the best he can at love, and it gave Adkins a chance to show off the full range of his voice.

"For the Rest of Mine" is Adkins' best love song to date. The lyrics about a man promising his love to a woman for the rest of his life have made it a frequently used wedding song (Adkins wrote it for his wife at their wedding last May), and it was very popular with the Rodeo crowd also.

His exciting new single, "Lonely Won't Leave Me Alone," was also a crowd favorite, thanks to Adkins' seamless switches from his lower register to falsetto on the song's chorus.

After performing "Every Light in the House," a great country hurting song, Adkins talked about the period after a breakup when he just locked himself in his house and wrote songs. "About the only one with not too many cuss words," he said, was "Snowball in El Paso," a fabulous lost-love song. It's poignant because it's so simple yet chock-full of vivid imagery.

Adkins closed with "Thinkin' Thing," and by this point the sweat on his face showed that he had given all he had to entertain the crowd. His performance only lasted 35 minutes, but no one in the crowd of 39,864 could say Adkins hadn't given them their money's worth.

Byrd couldn't measure up. The native of Beaumont, the city that also gave us George Jones and Mark Chesnutt, plays solid honky tonk music with a big smile, but neither his voice nor his songs distinguish him from the pack, with one exception.

"Keeper of the Stars" is one of the most beautiful love songs to come out of Nashville recently. The acoustic guitar introduction was gorgeous, and although Byrd's singing wasn't perfect, the song still came off well.

Byrd's 35-minute set was a mix of run-of-the-mill uptempo love songs ("Big Love" and "Holdin' Heaven") and humor ("Lifestyles of the Not So Rich and Famous" and "Watermelon Crawl"), with a couple slow songs ("Love Lessons" and "I Want to Feel That Way Again") thrown in.

When Rodeo officials said they were having trouble attracting country music's top talent, they used this show as an example. Neither Adkins nor Byrd is one of country music's biggest stars. However, in a genre where superstardom is seldom an indicator of true talent, Adkins has got the goods.