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Pop Music Review

Country Stars Offer Light Fare at Benefit for L.A. Food Bank


KZLA Country Cookout 3 marshaled a small army of established and (mostly) rising stars on Sunday at the Universal Amphitheatre, generating donations for the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, but also pointing up how hungry country music is now for artistry.

The majority of performers at Sunday's 8 1/2-hour show were content simply to entertain. Perhaps that's a forgivable offense given a format allowing each act just 20 or 25 minutes onstage.

The only significant efforts to explore the human soul came from Dwight Yoakam and Lee Ann Womack. Yoakam's solo acoustic set outlined his maverick path in country and cast an empathetic gaze toward society's disenfranchised via nine touchstone numbers from his catalog.

Womack may have lacked Yoakam's focused artistic vision, but she compensated with a sincere delivery of her breakthrough hit "I Hope You Dance," a pop-flavored tune as uplifting as country radio demands nowadays, minus the typically saccharine aftertaste.

Chattanooga native Eric Heatherly and Australia's Keith Urban contributed some cause for celebration of country newcomers who aren't afraid to play, rather than just strum, their guitars.

Urban launched his set with a fiery instrumental. Electricity fairly jumped off the stage, but the sparks quickly faded in subsequent material hewing obediently to Nashville convention.

Heatherly exhibited a bit more flair, evoking guitar-slingers past--from Stevie Ray Vaughan to James Burton--in blues and rockabilly-drenched numbers stronger in style and attitude than substance.

Following afternoon sets on a small outdoor stage by Darryl Worley, Craig Morgan and Carolyn Dawn Johnson, 12-year-old vocal phenom Billy Gilman got the evening's indoor session off to a heart-tugging start that bubbled with precocious charm.

The remaining main-stage performers--Neal McCoy, SheDaisy, Ty Herndon, Rascal Flatts and Diamond Rio--hopscotched through lightweight, relentlessly sunny, pop-leaning hits. As they used to say in an era when country had more meat on its bones, "Where's the beef?"

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