One of the strongest bills of country performers to pass through town in a while easily sold out the Universal Amphitheater on Saturday night, with amiable singer-guitarist Vince Gill headlining over established singer Patty Loveless and former Restless Heart lead vocalist Larry Stewart.
Though lacking the high media profile of Garth Brooks or Billy Ray Cyrus, Gill is one of America’s hottest country performers.
With eight nominations in seven categories for this year’s Country Music Assn. awards, after Saturday night’s show he was presented with a double-platinum award for “I Still Believe in You,” his third MCA album, and a gold disc for his just-released Christmas album.
Having come up through the ranks from bluegrass and (after a stint in Pure Prairie League) country-rock, Gill is hardly a newcomer. He’s a fine singer with a tinge of the “high lonesome” bluegrass sound intrinsic to his style, and a guitar player with technique and soul.
While Gill as a guitarist doesn’t really sound like anybody else, it’s safe to assume that he’d have sounded a lot different if Carl Perkins hadn’t come along earlier.
Gill’s lengthy set included fingerbusting guitar solos in numbers including “Liza Jane” and “Oklahoma Swing.” But its emotional peak was a set of two ballads –“Nothing Like a Woman,” which sounds like it could be drawn from the Percy Sledge songbook, and Gill’s new “Go Rest High on That Mountain,” a requiem for the late Keith Whitley and for Gill’s brother, who died earlier this year.
Gill’s excellent backing group included legendary steel guitarist John Hughey (best known for his lengthy stint with Conway Twitty) and backup/duet singer Dawn Sears, recently signed to her own MCA Nashville deal.
Loveless has been around for a while, recently moving from MCA to Sony’s Epic label with no appreciable change in her basic country-pop sound. The composer of Gill’s hit “When I Call Your Name,” she displayed limited stage presence, though she seemed confident enough and was well-received by the audience.
Her band benefited from the inclusion of Carmella Ramsey on fiddle, mandolin and rhythm guitar, as well as backup vocals. Highlights included her rendition of her hit “Don’t Toss Us Away,” appropriated from a Lone Justice album, and “Blue Side of Town.”
Stepping out after fronting Restless Heart, Stewart is using a slightly more country sound, though he sounds best — and least anonymous — when taking a soulful turn on his old band’s “I’ll Still Be Lovin’ You.”
Gill, whom it seemed hard to keep off the stage, appeared toward the end of the set to join in (as he did on the record) on the uptempo “Alright Already,” Stewart’s recent RCA single.