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Pop Music Review

Travis and the Philharmonic Share a Country String Thing

September 11, 2000|RANDY LEWIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Randy Travis is the kind of country singer who can instantly evoke the back-to-basics attraction of life in the Old West, where all a cowpoke needed to be happy was open sky, a good horse, a warm fire and a guitar. And, now and then, a 67-piece orchestra behind him.

OK, so in his first concert with strings, Friday with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, Travis sometimes meshed like chili and beans, sometimes clashed liked cowboys and champagne. But it was, in the end, an honorable attempt to break from the standard country-concert format.

It also was the Philharmonic's first formal collaboration with a country singer, which became evident in a couple of numbers in which their united sound was trampled by Travis' eight-man band and its mighty amplifiers. The orchestra's nicely jagged accents in "Before You Kill Us All" did manage to pierce through the electric guitars and keyboards. And they found the ideal blend of instrumentation and song in "Spirit of a Boy, Wisdom of a Man," swelling strings lending a more expansive sheen to the ballad about the choices men make.

A tuxedo-clad Travis had his share of problems in the new setting, the deepest notes from his woody baritone simply disappearing into the night instead of resonating throughout the Bowl. At times, though, he punched through with uncharacteristic forcefulness.

It made for a short night's work for the 41-year-old singer, who was on stage (in the first of two nights) for only about half of the two-hour concert. Rounding out the 13 numbers Travis sang--about half with his band, the others with the orchestra joining in--were fitting selections from the classical repertory by conductor Larry Curtis.

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