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Acoustic country threesome shares stage, mutual admiration

Country music is about stoytelling. The better the story, and the more poignant (if predictable) the melody and chord progression, the better the country music.

For a good while now, WYRK-FM -- Buffalo's country station -- has been presenting midsized and up-and-coming acts in the acoustic setting. For the past few years, these shows have taken place in UB's Center for the Arts, and there is not a better venue in town for them, so crisp, clear and well-rounded is the acoustic environment in the building's Mainstage Theater.

Wednesday evening, the station's yearly acoustic revue offered sets from Jack Ingram, Jason Michael Carroll and Randy Houser. The three shared the stage and took turns telling stories and singing their songs. The general feeling was of a combined backyard campfire guitar-swap and a songwriter's workshop. The capacity crowd lapped up every last drop of music and banter, gratefully.

Ingram, a journeyman country singer who toured and recorded for years before hitting it big with the single "Wherever You Are," was the headliner, but all three shared the spotlight and presented a comfortable, affable manner to the assembled through their onstage interaction. Maybe it was an act, but it sure did seem like all three loved each other's worked and were genuinely honored to be sharing the stage.
Houser had the firmest grip on country's blues elements, and he put them to good use in the steamy barrelhouse bit "My Kind of Country," an ode to Waylon, Willie and the almighty first-position open G chord. After the applause died down, Ingram appeared blown away.

"Damn, dude," he quipped. "That was really, really good. I'm used to followin' folks who have 10 No. 1 singles, but now, I gotta' follow actual talent."

In fact, he followed it well, with a brand-new song, "Seeing Stars," an emotive ballad that suggested Ingram is not unfamiliar with the low-burning but quite-lambent flame of Townes Van Zandt's writing.

Carroll wowed 'em early on with his up-tempo, devil-may-care anthem "I Can Sleep When I'm Dead" -- the "can" in the title apparently placed there to differentiate the song from Warren Zevon's "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" and Jon Bon Jovi's blatant appropriation of the same title -- and followed Ingram's lead with a brand-new song of his own. "This Growing Up Is Getting Old" -- brilliant title, that, and it will be the name at the top of Carroll's forthcoming album -- displayed the singer's clear debt to Randy Travis, and showed of his controlled baritone to stunning effect.

It wasn't just the stripped-down presentation and intimate setting that made this all feel like old-school country. Consider the subject matter of the majority of the songs themselves. We heard tear-in-your-beer detailed narratives concerning abandoned churches, long-gone daddies and absent mothers, drug addicts, and boys whose penchant for partying made them reluctant to become men. Carroll's biggest hit, and one of the most enthusiastically received songs of the evening, was "Alyssa Lies," a song about child abuse.

A combination of hopelessness and melodrama has always informed the finest country. It's a tough beam to balance upon -- go too far in one direction and you'll put your audience to sleep; lean too heavily on the other foot and you might make soap operas seem like subtle film-making by comparison. It's to the credit of all three of Wednesday's performers that, for the most part, they managed to walk the line.

e-mail: jmiers@buffnews.com

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>Concert Review

WYRK Acoustic Show

Featuring Jack Ingram, Jason Michael Carroll and Randy Houser on Wednesday night in the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts, Amherst.

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