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POP MUSIC REVIEW

McGraw and Hill reach beyond country's twang

The Soul2Soul tour finds a little rap, a little rock go a long way to keep the sound fresh while staying intimate.

August 13, 2007|Mikael Wood | Special to The Times

The members of Tim McGraw's and Faith Hill's bands probably wish they got paid by the note. Friday at the Honda Center in Anaheim -- during the first of a pair of shows there that brought their Soul2Soul tour to a close -- the husband and wife country-music superstars spent as much time grip-and-grinning as they did singing, which provided the players with plenty of opportunity to show off their chops in extended instrumental vamps that kept the three-hour concert moving like a well-oiled Broadway musical.

Hill, in particular, seemed dedicated to pressing every inch of front-row flesh, perhaps as part of a charm offensive after an incident last month at Louisiana's Cajundome in which the singer (rather reasonably) reprimanded a fan for grabbing McGraw's ... well, look it up on YouTube.

But you also got the sense that Hill and McGraw were shaking hands and kissing babies as a way to convince their audience that despite the audiovisual overload of Soul2Soul, they're both still in touch with country music's down-home spirit.

That's not an easy sell: Nashville has been synonymous with pop for at least a decade now, yet the music at the Honda Center pushed at the boundaries that separate country from everything else.

The singers opened the show with a cover of "Chasing Cars" by the Scottish alt-rock band Snow Patrol, which had to have left many people scratching their heads beneath their 10-gallon hats.

Later, Hill sang a thrillingly campy version of ABBA's "The Winner Takes It All," while McGraw offered his take on the Steve Miller Band's "The Joker."

Even in their own material, though, the stars seemed unsatisfied with the glittery twang-and-bang of modern country. McGraw credibly channeled Bill Withers in "Suspicions," a lush soul tune from this year's "Let It Go."

And Hill added an impromptu rap to her hit "Mississippi Girl," in which her description of a few weeks spent filming "The Stepford Wives" in California drew big cheers.

Yet if they've moved beyond a dedication to country's just-folks roots, Hill and McGraw haven't lost the ability to get intimate in front of a crowd.

The singers ended Friday's show with "I Need You," a lovely duet from "Let It Go" that likens the couple's relationship to that between a needle and a vein.

Finally alone at center stage, they each seemed interested in pressing only a very specific bit of flesh.

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