If you wanted to give directions to a bright new spot in country music, you might well say, "Take Highway 101."
Highway 101 is a fine new country quartet, whose self-titled debut LP has earned widespread accolades and spawned two Top Five singles. Between their success with recorded material, and an enormously solid, assured performance Monday at the Crazy Horse, these relative rookies are looking more like MVPs.
Fronted by honey-blond singer Paulette Carlson (and augmented Monday by pedal-steel player Tommy Spurlock), Highway 101 exuded considerable, though nicely understated, confidence during its early show Monday.
For instance, the set had barely begun when the band eased into its first hit single, "The Bed You Made for Me." That's akin to boasting, "Yeah, we're playing our best-known tune--probably the main song you came to hear--right away, but we have a bunch more stuff that we think you'll like just as much."
The truly impressive thing is that they were right--yet they never came across as anything other than homespun, highly engaging folks. There was a fair amount of good-natured ribbing among band members, as well as ongoing, slightly off-center comic relief supplied by drummer Scott (Cactus) Moser.
Moser's method of inciting a bit of audience participation during "Whiskey, If You Were a Woman" was to mimic Pee-wee Herman's practice of encouraging his fans to make all manner of noise at any mention of the day's secret word--in this case, "whiskey." The crowd obliged, both then and later, when the song was reprised as an encore.
But such high jinks would have worn thin, and probably annoyed rather than entertained, if Highway 101 didn't deliver what the people came for: good songs, well sung and well played.
And the band certainly triumphed on those fronts. Carlson has a wonderfully robust voice, full of smoky character. She received strong vocal support from Moser, bassist Curtis Stone and lead guitarist Jack Daniels (whatta name!), who each took at least one solo turn at the microphone.
The 70-minute set consisted of well-chosen, well-written material, featuring originals by Carlson (including "The Bed You Made for Me" and "Are You Still Mine"), as well as selections from the songbooks of George Jones, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell and John Fogerty.
The latter was represented by a muscular version of "Born on the Bayou," which only confirmed the suspicion that, while primarily a straight country outfit, this band has both the inclination and chops to rock out . Highway 101: clearly the road to a big future.