Suzy Bogguss' concert at the Wilshire Theatre on Thursday was evidence both of her own increased maturity as a performer and of the healthy trends among country music women. While no one would mistake her flirty, perky manner with the more sober, less showy presence of a Mary-Chapin Carpenter or a Trisha Yearwood, the progress Bogguss demonstrated Thursday showed that country fans aren't just accepting but perhaps even demanding more substance from their female stars.
When she opened for Ricky Van Shelton at the Universal a few months ago, Illinois-native Bogguss overdosed on the cutes, overshadowing her often strong song selection and nearly detracting from her pure, lilting voice. This time her stage persona seemed more natural and less forcedly saccharine, reminiscent musically and persona-wise of young Linda Ronstadt. She's still unapologetically coquettish (she purposefully called attention to the shortness of her skirt twice) and got excessively melodramatic on such weepy ballads as "Letting Go."
But she's toned down the staginess to the point that it supports rather than trivializes a well-rounded package of songs (drawn from the likes of John Hiatt and Nanci Griffith), supported by a solid, if not overly colorful, five-man country-pop band. And, with "In the Day," an almost John Prine-like portrait of a dead-end romance between two drunks that she co-wrote with her husband, she affirmed that her assets aren't just her voice and legs. While she's no rookie--her new "Voices in the Wind" album is her fourth big-label release--she may be ready to emerge as a worthwhile, if not groundbreaking, artist.