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Pop Music Review : Two Much: Flores, Moffatt Add Up


LONG BEACH — It was "Austin City Limits" redone as "North American Continental Limits," and a fine installment it was as Rosie Flores and Katy Moffatt sang Wednesday night by the shores of Long Beach Harbor.

Playing on a stage overlooking the water, with a high, leafy hedge and tall palms behind them in place of the roots-music TV series' cityscape, the two transplanted Texans and a band of some of Southern California's top instrumentalists turned the grassy courtyard of the Long Beach Museum of Art into first a mini folk-fest site, then a roaring country barn dance, minus the roof.

The multidimensional performance went on nearly 2 1/2 hours (not counting a half-hour intermission) and never lagged. Too many good songs, too much good playing, too great a stylistic abundance and two too many exceptional lead voices left no room for lapses.

Flores joked at one point that she and her old pal, Moffatt, were "the Everly Sisters." The two L.A.-based singers backed up that claim, never more so than on an angelic encore reading of the Everly Brothers' "All I Have to Do Is Dream."

Playing for a full house on the final night of the museum's well-programmed annual summer concert series, Flores and Moffatt began with an hourlong acoustic set in which they played singly, as a duo and with support on Dobro guitar from Greg Leisz, the Fullerton-bred string ace whose work with k.d. lang, Dave Alvin, Matthew Sweet and others places him high among the ranks of contemporary session musicians.

Moffatt, whose lank hair and large-lensed glasses gave her a demure, Mia Farrow-like aspect, hadn't played a major show in the Orange County vicinity before, except for her turn a few years ago with Flores as backing chanteuses for the Pleasure Barons, a lighthearted reprobates' revue led by Dave Alvin, Mojo Nixon, John Doe and Country Dick Montana.

In the acoustic first half Wednesday night, Moffatt impressed with the sheer breadth of her vocal arsenal. She could call to mind Emmylou Harris' plaintive ballad ache at one moment, then muster the spit, bite and moaning sensuality of an accomplished blues woman on "Love Me Like a Man," a Bonnie Raitt vehicle that Moffatt made her own.

Moffatt also is a solid songwriter: Witness the unrecorded number "Hank and Audrey," a biographical account of the marital hell that helped inspire Hank Williams' creative achievements but also contributed to his destructive slide.

Moffatt betrayed a wicked wit and a feisty side in her between-songs commentary; the sardonic "Big Boss Man," with its refrain, "You ain't so big, you're just tall, that's all," came with a dedication to those two gallants, Ike Turner and Mike Tyson. Flores kept her banter engagingly folksy and down to earth.

Flores can't match Moffatt's full-bodied amplitude of voice, but she had her own ways of getting across a wide range of material. "Bandera Highway," a lovingly detailed, bittersweet account of homecomings and leave-takings from her native San Antonio, was especially involving because of Flores' ability to inject frayed textures into her sweet, delicate tone.

Those contrasting elements carried the song's bittersweet juxtaposition of sustaining childhood memories with the painful separations that adulthood can bring. The song exemplifies Flores' artistic seriousness as a writer: So many country ballads wax fervent about fond childhood memories but don't get into the distancing complications that confront the person who recalls simpler days.

The second set was mainly a Flores showcase. Backed by an electric band that included Leisz, fiddler Steve Van Gelder and a sharp bass-and-drums team, she scored with such original songs as the wistful country-rock anthem "My Blue Angel" and a twangy rocker, "Blue Highway," that mixed sweetness with some bluesy bite. "Rockin' Little Angel" was a jumping bopper that served as a preview of "Rockabilly Filly," a mainly lighthearted album due next month. Flores retooled Butch Hancock's haunted meditation, "Boxcars," as a languid, slurry, almost cabaret-style number worthy of the lounge at the "Twin Peaks" lodge. She also got in some Raitt-like sass of her own with the lowdown "Rosebud Blues." Flores added yet another strong dimension with her guitar playing, spinning out wiry, staccato leads based in rockabilly and blues. Leisz, meanwhile, got to branch out from his customary steel guitars, showing a fluent touch with twangy or chiming licks on a Fender Telecaster.

Moffatt returned for the last few songs. The encore paired that sweet Everly Sisters harmonizing with a hard-rocking take on Rodney Crowell's "Ain't Living Long Like This."

It all added up to a great deal of evidence that the creative heart of country music is still beating strong: not in the worn-out middle road trod by most mainstream radio hits, but out on the unpredictable edge of things.

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