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POP BEAT

Admirable Nelson

March 22, 1986|CHRIS WILLMAN

Willie Nelson releases more albums in one year than many major artists do in a decade, yet his live shows tread over the same territory year after year--which isn't Springsteen, but isn't bad, either. In a nuclear age, a little reliability isn't necessarily a liability, and if the repertoire is too often on the cobwebby side, what a repertoire it is.

Opening night Thursday at the Universal Amphitheatre found Nelson's longtime band chugging heartily through 130 minutes of hits, rarely stopping to chat or to come up for air. You could quibble with some of Nelson's incessant acoustic guitar soloing--he loves to hit the same twangy string over and over again--but would be hard-pressed to complain about the overall spirit, which had the crack musicians fooling around winningly on some of the more familiar material.

It's a mystery why anyone considers second-billed Rosanne Cash's '70s-style soft-rock to be "country," but as long as someone's buying her fine records, they can call it anything they like. The low-key charmer sings the sort of stuff Linda Ronstadt used to, with less coy charisma but more of a sense of real smarts. And anyone who writes most of her own material but still finds time to do John Hiatt songs like they were going out of style deserves an encore, if not a medal.

She didn't get either from Thursday's subdued audience; maybe Cash will fare better with the weekend crowds as her pairing with Nelson continues through Sunday.

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