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John Anderson At The North Texas Fair, Saturday, August 25th, 2012, Reviewed

Of all the performers given the “Savior of Country Music” tag in the 1980s (a list that includes Steve Earle, Dwight Yoakam, Randy Travis, and possibly George Strait), John Anderson was the most aesthetically idiosyncratic. Performing in the hard country tradition but always giving his sense of humor breathing room, Anderson sang traditional classics (“The Long Black Veil”), covered Bobby Womack by way of the Rolling Stones (“It’s All Over Now”), tried his hand at bluegrass (the forgotten gem “Stop in the Road”), did a Zimmerman number (“Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,) and incorporated saxophone and keyboards into his music. Anderson was an established artist, who had hit #1 with the Appalachian influenced “Wild and Blue” in 1982, before “Swingin’” became one of the best selling singles in the history of Warner Brother records in 1983. The wonderfully captivating smash was such a huge hit that it practically obliterated John’s prior accomplishments, giving him a vast audience that was interested in nothing else than the courtship of Charlotte Johnson. His subsequent albums and singles sold less and less and he was dropped from Warner Brothers after 1986’s disappointing “Countrified” album.

 
A second wave of fame occurred in 1992 after Anderson was signed to BNA Records and established a partnership with producer James Stroud. Anderson returned to the top of the country charts and found a new generation of fans with #1 hits “Straight Tequila Night” and “Money in the Bank.” Anderson penned the title track to his comeback album, “Seminole Wind,” a brilliantly moving song that touches upon both the negative environmental impacts of progress and the loss of cultural identity. Not bad for a four minute country song.
 
 
Eventually, Anderson was phased out of country radio a second time as the industry worked to reach a younger demographic. He hasn’t hit the country Top 40 charts since 1997’s playful “Somebody Slap Me,” but he has continued to tour regularly and record sporadically.   A  John Anderson show is a no frills affair –  no light shows or dancing girls or guest rappers or political speeches.  He simply sings one great song after another.  He is currently touring without a keyboard player, which does take the gravy off of the mashed potatoes for numbers like “Swingin’” and “Seminole Wind.”  
 
During Anderson’s Saturday night show in Denton, Texas, John demonstrated that his unique baritone voice and his Lefty Frizzell influenced note curling vocal mannerisms remain in fine form.  Except for the newly written we-all-have-to-answer-when-duty-calls “Freedom Isn’t Free” and “This Praise for You,” a new spiritual number, the setlist has remained largely the same since he had his last Top Ten country hit in 1994.  Multi-instrumentalist Joe Spivey has played with Anderson for years and his mandolin performance on “An Occasional Eagle” and his frenetic fiddle sawing on “The Orange Blossom Special” were two of the highlights of the evening.  Spivey and drummer Tommy Rivelli locked into a viciously wonderful boot stomping groove on “Wild and Blue.”  
 
On a less positive note, guitarist Coleman Murphy added little to the proceedings and the pace of the show was not optimum.  Inserting slow tempo songs after his biggest charting hits kept the show from building as much momentum as it could have.  He could also sneak the maudlin “I Just Came Home to Count the Memories” out of his performance repertoire without hurting my feelings.
 
Nonetheless, for me, John Anderson is one of country music’s greatest vocalists.  While he doesn’t belong on the Mount Rushmore of Country Music with Hank Williams, George Jones, Merle Haggard, and Willie Nelson, he’s just a stone’s throw away.  He doesn’t look like a soap opera star, have a fascinating back story, or seem to posses any significant ego.  Lacking the image driven stardom that propels so many careers in the entertainment industry, John Anderson just consistently delivers the goods – writing or selecting and performing excellent material.  A John Anderson concert is not just a good bet, it’s money in the ba-a-a-ank.
 
Grade – B+
 
Setlist:
 
I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal
I’ve Got it Made
Small Farm in Kentucky
Money in the Bank
When It Comes to You
Bend It Until It Breaks
Chicken Truck
Would You Catch A Falling Star
Freedom Isn’t Free
Straight Tequila Night
I Just Came Home to Count the Memories
Wild and Blue
This Praise for You
Black Sheep
An Occasional Eagle
Orange Blossom Special
Lyin’ Blue Eyes
Swingin’
I Wish I Could Have Been There
Seminole Wind
 
Encore
1959
Let Somebody Else Drive

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