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Tritt shows versatility, showmanship at Arena


A few years back, when Travis Tritt first hit the country Top 10 with a hokey novelty tune called "Country Club," no one seemed to take him seriously.

Surprisingly, though, as Mr. Tritt's nearly flawless performance at the Baltimore Arena Saturday easily proved, he's evolved into one of country's most inspired and versatile artists, and he's also a savvy, accomplished showman.

Mr. Tritt's energy was apparent from the opening power chords fTC of "Put Some Drive in Your Country," a high decibel Southern rocker in which the singer pays homage to some of his obvious influences: Hank Williams Jr., Waylon Jennings and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Dressed nearly head to toe in blue leather, Mr. Tritt pranced down off the risers, charged across the stage wielding his electric guitar and exhorted his fans to "let the music take you where it will . . . we're gonna kick a and take names tonight."

From that moment on, the audience more or less belonged to him; and he kept them more than happy with a 90-minute show that cannily balanced full-tilt, hip-shaking, Southern-boogie and raunch and roll with intimate acoustic balladry on fine originals such as "Can I Trust You With My Heart" and "Help Me Hold On."

Along the way, Mr. Tritt cemented the bond with his audience with some warm-hearted philosophizing and some good-natured polemics against two of his obvious pet peeves: rap music and country Chippendale-style heartthrob, Billy Ray Cyrus.

As the current chairman and spokesman for the American Disabled Veterans' Association, he also turned in a stirring musical salute to that cause.

With his solid original material and worthy updates of songs such as Mr. Williams' "Young Country" and Bob Seger's "Night Moves," Mr. Tritt, better than anyone currently on the charts, recaptures the macho, Dixie-fired swagger of '70s Southern rockers and country "Outlaws" like Mr. Williams and Mr. Jennings. Yet when he sent his band off to powder their noses and delivered a solo mini-set of stirring ballads, it was his warmth and intimacy that carried the moment, and ultimately, the show.

Country diva Trisha Yearwood, who shared the bill with Mr. Tritt, still, at times, seems a little tentative and unsure of what to do with herself on stage. Yet her hourlong set was always credible and accomplished, and often moving.

It hardly matters that Linda Ronstadt's influence resonates through nearly every note she sings; Ms. Yearwood is a striking singer in her own right, with formidable range and remarkable power. Inexplicably, though, a couple of her best songs, including the hit ballad "Like We Never Had a Broken Heart," were noticeably missing from her repertoire.

The promoters of Saturday's show are also to be commended. In an era when 8 o'clock performances routinely start 45 minutes late, and audiences are too often subjected to interminable between-set delays because the star is backstage having a bad hair day, the presentation at the Arena started on time and ran like clockwork throughout the evening.

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