Blake Shelton was both the engaging host and hit-rich headliner at the Academy of Country Music’s Music City Jam staged Wednesday night (March 2) at the Nashville Convention Center.
The event, which also featured performances by Luke Bryan, The Band Perry, Frankie Ballard, Brett Eldredge, Chris Young and Laura Bell Bundy, was a component of the annual Country Radio Seminar, this year’s edition of which will run through Friday.
The same band backed all the acts.
“I’m going to do a lot of songs, which, if you don’t know, you ought to know,” Shelton lectured the crowd of several hundred gathered for the show. It was a none-too-sly reference to the fact that many people in charge of country radio are still relative newcomers to the music.
“In my opinion, everybody should know who Steve Wariner is,” Shelton proclaimed as he swung into “Lonely Women Make Good Lovers,” the song Wariner took to No. 4 in 1984. (Since he wasn’t born until four years later, Shelton could be forgiven for not mentioning that “Lonely Women” had been a Top 10 hit for Wariner’s former boss, singer Bob Luman, in 1972.)
Shelton then brought out Bryan, who continued the evening’s history lesson with covers of “Tight Fittin’ Jeans” (Conway Twitty, 1981) and “The Chair” (George Strait, 1985). He also squeezed in his own charmer, “Rain Is a Good Thing.”
Shelton re-emerged to put his imprint on Jerry Reed’s wild-eyed 1982 smash, “She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft).”
New artist Frankie Ballard, who charted in Billboard last week with “A Buncha Girls,” opened his set with a first-rate version of “Put Some Drive in Your Country” (Travis Tritt, 1990) but then lost steam with his rather pallid rendering of Reed’s 1977 standard, “East Bound and Down.”
Apparently deciding not to be too self-effacing, Shelton reclaimed the microphone to do his crowd-pleasing signature number, “Hillbilly Bone.” He followed with “Little Sister” (a hit for Elvis Presley in 1961 and Dwight Yoakam in 1987).
Eldredge, who first broke into the country charts with the doleful “Raymond,” also elected to do covers — in this case, celestial ones, starting with a pop standard, “Fly Me to the Moon,” and ending with Brooks & Dunn’s 1992 hit, “Neon Moon.”
“You got any requests?” Shelton inquired of the audience when he came back onstage. Hearing none that suited him, he gave forth with “Too Cold at Home” (Mark Chesnutt, 1990).
Young, who came on next, departed from the program’s orthodoxy by singing only his own material, “Tomorrow,” his current single, and “Voices,” his recent No. 1.
“I’m gonna do some of my crap — if that’s all right with you,” said Shelton after Young bowed out. And that he did, breezing through “The More I Drink” and then his first No. 1, “Austin,” and his latest one, “Who Are You When I’m Not Looking.”
Shelton told the crowd he attended his first Country Radio Seminar in 1999 but that his record label failed to release a single on him that year. The same thing happened in 2000, he lamented. Finally, in 2001, “Austin” came out and Shelton was on his way. “It’s been a pretty amazing 10 years for me,” he said.
After thanking the radio people in the audience for his string of successes, Shelton introduced the final act, Laura Bell Bundy.
“She has the ability to not give a shit what people think about her,” he said. “I admire that.”
Accompanied by her “boyfriend” — singer-songwriter Andy Davis, Bundy began belting out Marvin Gaye’s sultry 1973 seduction script, “Let’s Get It On.”
Within Gaye’s lyrics, Bundy and Davis deftly inserted snippets of the decidedly un-seductive “You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly” (L. E. White and Lola Jean Dillon, 1977; Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty, 1978). It was one of the evening’s high points.
“You think I can’t do a pop song?” Shelton taunted the crowd when the applause for Bundy died down. To demonstrate he was just as musically ecumenical as the next guy, he crooned Rupert Holmes 1979 blockbuster (and soon-to-be karaoke favorite), “Escape (The Pina Colada Song).”
Shelton had fun with the “Pina Colada” lyrics, at one point stripping in the line, “I didn’t think about my lady, though she sings ’Kerosene,’ ” a reference to his fiancée, Miranda Lambert, and her breakthrough hit from 2006.
“Now that I’ve sung ’Pina Colada’ in front of country radio,” Shelton intoned, “let me try to redeem myself to country radio by singing a song about two dogs stuck together.”
That song, of course, was “Ol’ Red,” his 2002 ditty about how doggy love derails doggy pursuit of an escaping convict.
By this time, perhaps a third of the original crowd had wandered off to find other amusements. But those who stayed had learned a lot — or at least had their memories stirred vigorously.