Who's gonna fill their shoes?
How about Craig Morgan, Dierks Bentley, Buddy Jewell, Jimmy Wayne and Pat Green for starters?
Despite the absence of any female or group act at the Country Radio Seminar's New Faces Show Friday (March 5), attendees saw and heard ample evidence that the state of country music is strong. Some songs were better than others, of course, but the performances were uniformly tight and energetic.
Since the show was the last major event of the three-day conference, there were a lot of near-empty tables, even in the front of the banquet hall at the Nashville Convention Center. Still, the crowd was attentive and quick to cheer.
Predictably, each artist lavished praise on the assembled disc jockeys and radio programmers for playing their music. Only Green, who sang last, inserted a note of balance in this ritual fawning when he drew himself up to full height and intoned that his current success "is all my doing." Then he laughed quickly to suggest that he was just kidding.
Show host Charlie Monk worked hard to get the crowd into a receptive mood. He described Nashville as a town "where you get kicked out of the church choir if you lose your record deal." He said celebrity tipplers Glen Campbell and Wynonna were forming a rap group called "Run DUI" and quipped that he'd been reading a book by former Senate majority leader Trent Lott, ousted for racially insensitive remarks, titled When Bad Things Happen to White People.
Morgan opened the show with "I'm Country," a whiff of lyrical inconsequence that will join Little Jimmy Dickens' "Country Boy," John Denver's "Thank God I'm a Country Boy," Don Williams' "I'm Just a Country Boy," Ricky Skaggs' "Country Boy," Hank Williams Jr.'s "A Country Boy Can Survive" and Loretta Lynn's "Country in My Genes" in proclaiming to the world that country music's chief point of pride is its resistance to all civilizing influences.
But Morgan redeemed himself with "Almost Home," surely one of the most moving and cinematic songs of the past decade. In its depiction of a homeless man who's finally found refuge in the shelter of his own mind, the song matches the insight of Rodney Crowell's similarly themed and equally well-crafted "Riding out the Storm." A mesmerizing performer, Morgan has no need to traffic in the countrier-than-thou stereotypes that are the last defense of lesser talents.
Bentley made his bow to the familiar twanging Dobro intro to "What Was I Thinkin'," a song so vividly evocative of teen lust that it seems fresh with each new hearing. The curly-haired singer roamed the stage like a young lion through most of his set, exuding a restless and charming energy. Wayne was a stand-at-the-microphone kind of guy who relied entirely on the power of his emotion-drenched lyrics to hold the crowd. And they did.
Jewell, who was dressed like a Broadway costumer's conception of a Southern planter, crooned with the ease and confidence of an old-timer, his velvety, sonorous voice floating his wistful lyrics along. By contrast, Green turned the room into a Texas dance hall by mugging, shrugging and grimacing his way through such rousers as "Carry On" and "A Guy Like Me." Before closing the show with "Wave on Wave," Green told the crowd, "[This has] been the best year of my life." Then, with a mischievous grin, he added, "I may be the only 'new artist' with eight records."
"When a Man Can't Get a Woman Off His Mind"
"Look at Us"
"What Was I Thinkin'"
"Wish It Would Break"
"My Last Name"
"How Am I Doin'"
"New Level, New Devil"
"I Love You This Much"
"One Step at a Time"
"Abilene on Her Mind"
"One in a Row"
"Sweet Southern Comfort"
"A Guy Like Me"
"Wave on Wave"
To view pictures from the CRS New Faces show, visit CMT.com's artist pages for Craig Morgan, Dierks Bentley, Buddy Jewell, Jimmy Wayne or Pat Green.