SANTA ANA–A phenomenon Billy Ray Cyrus may be; phenomenal, his show isn’t. Nor was the 75-minute set particularly weak, or even disappointing–the “Some Gave All” album isn’t consistently top-notch, though it does contain one or two potential follow-up singles.
Cyrus is one of the hottest acts in music today, with his first single–five weeks at No. 1 on the country charts–crossing over to pop in some markets, with the catchy “Achy Breaky Heart” gaining play on stations including KIIS-FM in Los Angeles and WPLJ-FM in New York City.
So why is a man whose Polygram/Mercury album “Some Gave All” (which debuted on the pop chart at No. 4 and has been No. 1 for two weeks), which has just been certified double-platinum, make his first Southern California appearance at a 250-seat club in Orange County? And at a budget ticket price duplicating the frequency of the sponsoring radio station?
It’s simply a matter of astute booking: the Crazy Horse’s Fred Reiser contracted Cyrus two months ago. A single 30-second commercial drew 600 inquiries, Reiser reports.
A Kentuckian who lived in Southern California for a few years in the mid-’80s , Cyrus is the latest in a line of Men Who Would Be (the) King that includes Billy (Crash) Craddock and Ronnie McDowell.
A living 8×10 glossy, Cyrus wore a muscle shirt, all the better to flash his bulging biceps. His hairstyle is a novelty: short on the top and sides and flowing, Michael Bolton-like, at the rear.
The Tuesday night audience was predominantly female. Roses were passed out, gratis, at the door; many of the women then presented the blossoms to the singer. (If ecologically minded, he could have recycled them at the door for the second show.)
Cyrus sings well enough, he wiggles his hips like you-know-who, and he’s blessed with a particularly strong band.
Unfortunately, he only let them cut loose once, on the rocking “Call Me the Breeze,” based on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s version of the J.J. Cale song. Guitarists Terry Shelton and Mike Sagraves turned in some powerful dueling-lead work on the one, and held back for the rest of the set.
The entire band played on Cyrus’s album, with the exception of Sagraves, a real find, who onstage plays guitar, harmonica and steel guitar.
With the notable exception of “Achy Breaky Heart,” which he performed midset and again at the end, Cyrus wrote most of the material on his album, much of which is pretty formulaic country stuff.
“Ain’t No Good Goodbye” is a strong ballad with a Louisiana flavor. The album’s title song is a tribute to war veterans that may give him a piece of the flag-waving Lee Greenwood contingent.
Is Billy Ray Cyrus a one-hit wonder? Could be; he certainly doesn’t have the depth or range of Garth Brooks, for instance. But he’s reportedly going back into the studio soon, to work up material for a quick follow-up album. This time around, everybody concerned will be paying a lot more attention.