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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Broadway Took the Country Out of Singer Gary Morris

August 03, 1988|HOLLY GLEASON

Gary Morris provides a case in point of how you can take the country out of the boy. During his 65-minute early show at the Crazy Horse in Santa Ana on Monday, Morris crooned tunes and caressed and rocked them. But with the exception of his first encore, "Never Stop Lovin' You," there was nothing much country going on.

This isn't to say that Morris may not be, technically, one of the best singers working out of Nashville today. But his stints in such Broadway productions as "Les Miserables" and "La Boheme" have left him with a studied delivery and emotive attack that have little to do with the natural soulfulness that best informs country music, where Morris launched his ever-expanding, multifaceted career.

Morris is still singing country songs, but they're almost unrecognizable now. "The Wind Beneath My Wings" has become a soaring ballad; "Baby Bye Bye" has undergone a doo-wop treatment, and his funky, chunky rave-up treatment of "That's The Way It Is" owes more to the rock charts than to anything else.

A shift in style would not be inherently troublesome if executed effectively, but the bigger problem was that Morris seemed to play everything way too safe, relying less on musical sparks than on his suave male wit. (Although this may have been exaggerated Monday because the show was being taped for a radio rebroadcast.)

Certainly, a snatch of "Bring Him Home" from "Les Miserables" seemed more staged than inspired. And did the audience really need to be regaled with "O Holy Night" just because Morris has a Christmas record due soon? It's barely August!

Still, the show was far from a write-off. Morris has a broad vocal range (he sure knows how to hit the high notes) and his renditions of "Finishing Touches" and "Leave Me Lonely"--while, again, not the least bit country--were admirable.

A nice addition was "Les Miserables" cast mate Kelli James, who sang backup and handled Crystal Gayle's parts on "Another World" and "Making Up For Lost Time." She provided an effective on-stage foil for Morris, and it was nice to see him sharing the stage so freely.

At the end, one was left wondering what Morris should do next--given his obvious musical preferences. Maybe he should explore the possibilities of a middle-of-the-road/adult contemporary pop career. Or maybe he should try to further capitalize on his success as an actor.

Either way, with his heart so obviously not into it (and with a band that lacks fiddles, steel guitars, mandolins and/or banjos), it seems pointless for him to even be associating himself with country music anymore.

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