"I apologize, California!"
Tracy Lawrence's final words to his audience Friday at the Pond of Anaheim were prompted by an unexpected sore throat that forced him to call the concert quits after 11 songs that had clocked in at just 55 minutes.
A ragged voice, however, wasn't the country music star's biggest problem. While he was in that forgiveness-asking mood, he ought to have said sorry for the emotional void at the heart of so much of his pleasant but undemanding material.
The Arkansas-bred singer is one of country's hottest--his new "Time Marches On" album not only is in the top 10 of the country chart, but has made it into the top 40 of the pop chart as well.
Yet the brutally honest soul-searching that typifies the most rewarding country music is left for others to mess with.
Consider his performance of the new album's title song. This Bobby Braddock tune stops at simple nostalgia in following a family over a couple of generations. There's no insight or point of view--just the truism that "time marches on." Yeah, so?
As he begged off early, Lawrence promised to play longer next time he's in the area. If he really wants to do his fans a favor, he'll do something about the quality, not just the quantity, of what he sings when he returns.
Preceding him, Toby Keith came off as yet another competent singer who generates only the most fleeting flashes of musical or lyrical originality. His monochromatic vocals left even his above-average songs no better or worse than they read on the printed page.
Opener Rich McCready did well with a couple of bristling western swing numbers. But like so many of his up-and-coming peers, he desperately needs more distinctive songs if he ever hopes to get noticed amid the Stetson sea.