There is nothing like a good story well told--or, in Tom T. Hall's case, well sung. The burly, silver-haired writer/performer has built a career on country balladry, with more than 500 numbers to his credit. At the Crazy Horse in Santa Ana on Monday night, he seemed to keep the folks satisfied by giving them many of their favorites.
As his band, the Storytellers, moved things along at a good clip, Hall was homey and low-key. Between such tunes as "Country Is," "I Love" and "The Year Clayton Delaney Died," he regaled the audience with stories about where the songs came from.
Before swinging into "Old Dogs, Children and Watermelon Wine," for instance, Hall remembered meeting a retiree in a hotel bar. He had come away from their conversation, he said, with renewed respect for simple values--values not only reflected in the song but characteristic of his best work.
Hall's deep, mellifluous voice bears further witness to the miles he has traveled. When he is singing or speaking, he can be enchanting and gracious. Still, there were moments Monday where overt pitching of his new album
("Country Songs for Kids") and book of short stories ("The Acts of Life") approached crass commercialism, far out of place with the rest of his on-stage persona. However, the musical highlights were many. One of the most enjoyable was a bluegrass digression that featured Hall picking banjo as though his life truly depended on it. Such up-tempo numbers as "Fox on the Run" were balanced by slowers ones, such as "I Know You're Married, but I Still Love You," giving the Storytellers ample chance to stretch out.