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POP MUSIC REVIEW

A country bash in search of a star

Sure, Reba was there as MC of KZLA's shindig, but where was the depth and magnitude?

October 13, 2003|Randy Lewis | Times Staff Writer

Here's how strapped country music is for a new generation of A-list stars.

At the annual KZLA-FM (93.9) Country Bash on Saturday, a 10-story visage of Johnny Cash gazed down on concertgoers heading into Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, nicely symbolizing just how big a loss his death last month was.

And which of the dozen acts on the Bash lineup most electrified fans? Kid Rock, who got country airplay earlier this year with "Picture," his duet with Sheryl Crow. Talk about sublime to ridiculous.

Kid's 15 minutes may have expired, but the guy does have an outsized personality, something lacking in many of the new and established names making up this year's Bash bill.

One bona-fide country star, Reba McEntire, was on hand, but she was just MC and comic relief for the evening portion of the nine-hour-plus show.

Throughout the day, it wasn't unusual to feel compelled to check the program to figure out whether that woody baritone belonged to newcomer Joe Nichols or newcomer Dierks Bentley, or whether the hummable country rock blaring from the stage was that of faceless Trick Pony or faceless Lonestar.

Fans can argue that their faces are far from identical, but when it comes to songs, all too many feel interchangeable.

Bentley probably was the day's most promising newcomer, displaying a flair for piling up words cleverly in his first hit, "What Was I Thinkin'." La Habra native Jennifer Hanson also proved she's more than a Julia Roberts-like beauty with songs she's written about the twists and turns of romance, notably a nicely layered "Half a Heart."

Headliner Lonestar embodies the blinkered viewpoint that has confined contemporary country. Jo Dee Messina preceded Lonestar with a more involving set built primarily on songs supporting a woman's need and ability to bounce back after romantic disillusionment. But she often went over the top.

Like so many others at the Bash, Messina aimed to make the listener feel good -- one slice of human experience that the best country music addresses, but not the whole pie.

Just ask Johnny Cash.

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