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Review: Clint Black at Majestic Theatre

Posted 12:05pm on Friday, Mar. 07, 2014

Clint Black gently broke the bad news Thursday night.

“We left the big production at home and had to cut out all the dance numbers and costume changes — sorry,” said the black-clad country star, by way of introduction.

The feisty, appreciative (albeit criminally small) audience at the Majestic Theatre didn’t seem the least bit perturbed by the revelation, particularly given the good news: the focus this night would be squarely upon Black’s remarkably sturdy songcraft.

And for 90 minutes, the Katy-raised singer-songwriter peeled his tunes to the bone, both alone and with an ace four-piece band, which included Black’s long-time collaborator Hayden Nicholas.

Whether it was material yet to be released (such as Better and Worse, a track from a forthcoming LP, which Black cracked he’s been “working on for 16 years”), old favorites ( Like the Rain; Killin’ Time) or others’ classics ( Time of the Preacher, from Willie Nelson’s seminal Red-Headed Stranger record, during which Black trotted out an eerily evocative imitation of Nelson’s distinctive nasal register), Black deftly moved between moods, giving the evening an expansive feel.

Quick with a self-deprecating quip — with a raconteur’s flair for ancedotes, Black riffed on everything from casinos to the secret for a successful marriage — the 52-year-old musician most clearly illustrated how far Nashville has wandered from its roots. It wasn’t so long ago that Black’s music was in heavy rotation, and he was selling millions of albums a year.

Now, with Music City’s fixation on suntanned youth, trucks and chugging as much beer as possible, Black’s catalog almost seems old before its time. (Tellingly, the night’s only real misfire was Black’s ham-handed The International Language of Beer, a clear sop to current tastes, and a song beneath his skills as a writer.)

But the material also felt lived in, durable and relatable — a man observing what he sees and hears, sculpting lyrics out of thoughts and conveying them with a minimum of fuss. Art that lasts tends to do so for a reason.

Once you strip away all the production, glitz and glamour, and you’re left with just the music, it succeeds or fails on the strength of the artist behind it. While Clint Black made such a feat seem effortless Thursday, doing so is not always as easy it might seem.

Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis delivered an altogether pleasing opening set, spending a too short half hour on stage, rifling through each other’s back catalogs and generally charming everyone in sight. The husband-wife troubadour team’s voices blend in gorgeous fashion, and the set even showcased new songs from the pair’s new record, due out in May.

Preston Jones, 817-390-7713 Twitter: @prestonjones

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