During her opening set Thursday night at the Universal Amphitheatre, singer Kathy Mattea referred to headliner George Strait as "the Mark Harmon of country music."
Strait has the clean-cut good looks to fit that description, but he could also be called country's answer to Gary Cooper. Like Cooper, Strait is the strong, silent type. He hardly said a word through his first six songs, and even then he didn't say much. Fortunately, his music can do the talking for him.
Strait calls his fine eight-man backing group the Ace in the Hole Band. But the 35-year old Texan's real ace in the hole is his ability to move with ease between traditional country hoedowns and contemporary country ballads.
Strait--whose "Ocean Front Property" recently became the first album to enter the country chart at No. 1--specializes in warm, melodic songs whose titles alone suggest their poignancy: "Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind?," "Nobody in His Right Mind Would Have Left Her." If that were all that Strait could do, he would be a smooth country crooner in the Kenny Rogers/Eddie Rabbitt camp. But he can also up the tempo with some lively honky-tonk jams.