Harlan Howard said it – it’s been repeated here, and it warrants repeating again – “Country music is three chords and the truth.”
There’s another adage that rang true Wednesday night at University at Buffalo’s Center for the Arts, where Country 106.5 WYRK hosted another sold-out acoustic show: Sometimes, the truth hurts.
Three young Nashville stars with short tenures on the country charts – Kip Moore, Greg Bates and Maggie Rose – sat side-by-side, each with acoustic accompaniment, and took turns performing original songs while telling the stories behind them before an appreciative crowd. For these up-and-comers in the genre that boasts the most loyal audience, this intimate, in-the-round setting offers an opportunity to endear themselves to their new, future and hopefully forever fans in ways near impossible over the radio or at a rowdier show.
In that sense, they succeeded, as the crowd connected with all three seemingly likable characters: Moore, the rebellious heartthrob with hooks to match his looks; Bates, the boy next door happy to be there; and Rose, the sassy rabble-rouser. Each had songs that stirred emotions in the stripped-down setting; on the other hand, each had at least a few forgettable forays that exposed thin songs and, with them, their singers’ limited repertoires.
Bates, born and raised in Nashville, began the revue with the fitting “Go Time,” a twangful rave-up that gave his sidekick guitarist prime time for pickin’. The South Georgian Moore, also aided by an extra guitarist, immediately asserted himself as a cross between Ryan Bingham and Ryan Seacrest’s American Top 40 with “Beer Money,” a slow burner in which his scratchy baritone begins low and builds to a glossy chorus. Maryland native Rose followed with a rave-up of her own in “Goodbye Monday,” offering a fuller sound as she sang, her voice her only instrument, hitting hot on the mic and high to heaven while backed by a guitarist and two mates who supplied spot-on harmonies.
In the second round, Bates struck first in the banter department by introducing “Whipped” with this: “This goes out to all the guys who’ve spent a Sunday afternoon at TJ Maxx during football season,” which unfortunately was more memorable than anything in his sappy ballads that followed, “Lost in Caroline” included.
Moore made a bold move by playing a raw song he claimed he’d written just last week in “I’m to Blame,” allegedly based on a barb shot at him by a gal to whom he’d taken a shine at a show. He introduced the slightly racy young love anthem “Drive Me Crazy” with his assuring credo, “If I write it true, if I write it real, and don’t try to be too songwriter-y, people will relate to it.” And surely they did, especially when he told a midsong story about “the girl I lived this song with.”
Rose took over with the title track of her soon-to-be-released debut album “Mostly Bad,” making plain that she’s cut from the cloth of the new-school country diva – forget “Stand By Your Man,” this gal will stand and watch her man’s house burn down if she’s crossed. She insisted with aplomb that “I Ain’t Your Mama” in a hopper that would satisfy, if not scare, hardcore country lovers.
Bates followed with a song containing a chorus that literally sang, “You and me/sitting in a tree/k-i-s-s-i-n-g.” That really happened. Moore picked up the pace with the rebel anthem “Reckless,” and Rose offered a definite highlight of the night with a dark murder ballad that would make Dolly Parton proud in “Preacher’s Daughter.” The next few rounds were mostly snoozers.
Bates and Moore closed with their hits “Did it for the Girl” and “Somethin’ ’Bout a Truck,” the lone No. 1 hit among them, which sent the crowd home happy and likely feeling they got their money’s worth in that they got to know these three fresh faces. They’ll remember the night, but will they remember many of the songs?
The truth will be told as the future unfolds on WYRK’s airwaves and the country charts.
What: WYRK Acoustic Concert with Kip Moore, Greg Bates and Maggie Rose
When: Thursday evening
Where: University at Buffalo Center for the Arts, Amherst