LAS VEGAS — Is it a safe bet that Faith Hill will reposition herself as a superstar in country music? That question remains unanswered by the first of her four concerts that began here Tuesday night (Aug. 10).
On one side of the coin, she has lost no confidence in the four-and-a-half years since she last headlined a tour. She’s still gorgeous and comfortable, taking time to visit with people in the audience. And most importantly, when the song suits her, the woman can definitely deliver.
Yet, others might suggest Hill thought about folding her country cards after her 2002 album, Cry, received mixed reviews, and the title track barely broke into country’s Top 20. As an indication of how far she drifted from the format, two tracks — “Free” and “There Will Come a Day” — had potential as huge dance hits, a la Cher, based on hearing them live.
So, what will the next album sound like? In other words, pop or country? Hill told a Las Vegas tourist magazine she’s no longer even answering that question. However, she offered the audience at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace two songs from the forthcoming project.
One is called “Everything’s A-OK in the U.S.A.” While some may question whether that’s a truly accurate assessment, the upbeat melody does stick in your head, although the lyrics appear to be somewhat opportunistic and silly. Darrell Scott, one of the most talented and insightful writers in Nashville, wrote the song, which makes it even more of a disappointment, especially considering that his catalog includes Travis Tritt’s “Great Day to Be Alive” and the Dixie Chicks’ “Long Time Gone” and “Heartbreak Town.” (Scott is playing mandolin in Hill’s band during her Vegas reign. Some of the other sidemen looked familiar, too, but she only introduced Scott and backup singer Bekka Bramlett.)
The second new song is called “Paris.” She says it’s one of her favorite songs she’s ever heard. The ballad’s theme is typical of contemporary country music — listing all the things you’d do for somebody, such as tear the Mona Lisa into little pieces. She added that it will likely never be a single. And that’s OK with her, she said, because all of her favorite albums include songs that weren’t meant to be singles.
Which brings us back to the Cry album. One of that project’s most redeeming songs, “Stronger,” proved a highlight of her set — with white stars glimmering on the screen behind her, spotlights gliding along the stage and a knockout vocal performance. She followed it with “Cry,” but on the screen, she opted for stock footage of rivers and streams rather than the music video where she’s soaking wet and the car changes colors when she touches it.
In the music business, people are prone to write somebody off after a disappointing album. But don’t discount the power of Hill’s catalog. After nearly five years away from the stage, it’s refreshing to hear her sing songs like “Wild One,” “It Matters to Me” and “The Way You Love Me.” And if Gladys Knight ever hears Hill’s more soulful rendition of “Let Me Let Go,” she’d probably put it in her own show, just across the street at the Flamingo. That’s high praise.
Hill opened the 90-minute set with “Let’s Go to Vegas” and closed the encore with “Piece of My Heart.” The crowd also basked in the duet of “Let’s Make Love” with surprise guest Tim McGraw, the first song of the encore. The spontaneous screaming reaction from the crowd implied that more than a few country fans were out there, with the squealing drowning out the first few lines of McGraw’s verse. In a city largely built on sex, these two can still teach everybody a thing or two about passion and chemistry.
With a new album due later this year, expectations are high for Hill. After all, she can still attract a following. The theater appeared to be filled to near capacity, despite steep ticket prices. And it must be said that she’s been nothing but a classy ambassador for country music during her recent pop phase. But what didn’t work in 2002 isn’t likely to work in 2004 either. Country radio would surely hate to lose her, but just about the only thing they can do is let the chips fall where they may.
“Let’s Go to Vegas”
“The Way You Love Me”
“The Secret of Life”
“Let Me Let Go”
“Everything’s A-OK in the U.S.A.”
“Take Me as I Am”
“It Matters to Me”
“When the Lights Go Down”
“There Will Come a Day”
“Let’s Make Love” (with Tim McGraw)
“Maybe I’m Amazed”
“Piece of My Heart”