Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Return of a Songwriting Legend

Category: Concert Review

There's an old country song titled, "Have I Stayed Away Too Long?" For J.D. Souther, the answer to that question is an unqualified YES. After nearly a quarter of a century away from recording, Souther returned last year with If the World Was You, featuring an interesting twist: his typical sardonic lyrics with jazz instrumentation.

Souther brought his rich song catalog to the historic 125 Theater at Belcourt (the former Hillsboro Theater, which was home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1934 to 1936) in Nashville, Tennessee on Wednesday, March 4, as part of his return to musical performing (after years as an actor). If his shows have been as good in other cities as this performance, he has been knocking them dead.

The first 40 minutes of Souther's set was devoted to his classics: "Faithless Love," his one big hit "You're Only Lonely" (which people, even his fans, still mistake for the Roy Orbison song "Only the Lonely"), and "Red Wing." He performed "New Kid in Town" (the Eagles hit which Souther co-wrote) masterfully with just his guitar, and "Simple Man, Simple Dream" was elevated to a new level of greatness with the solo performance.

For the remainder of the concert, Souther was backed with his jazz ensemble and performed most of If the World Was You. The only drawback to the set was the trumpet and saxophones were at the same volume level as Souther's vocal microphone, which meant that he was frequently drowned out by the louder instruments. That is a shame, because the long hiatus did nothing to Souther's songwriting ability.

New York singer/songwriter April Smith opened the concert with six songs performed solo acoustically. The opening number, "Drop Dead Gorgeous," featured a good punch line ("If you're just drop-dead gorgeous, then drop dead") and a comment Smith relayed from her father that the song sounded like "what would have happened if Gene Pitney had been a sarcastic bastard." Smith delivered her mix of upbeat songs and ballads with a wonderful knock-the-walls-down blues/jazz voice. Her set was far too short.

Souther's portion of the concert was recorded and filmed for an apparent CD and DVD release. It is most fortunate that this magical evening by a songwriting legend was captured for all to enjoy.

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