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Vital Judds and Travis Take Turns at Universal

Randy Travis and the Judds are the two hottest and most vital acts in country music, and their concert Thursday at the Universal Amphitheatre was one of the best of the year in any genre. Since both acts are headliners, the only question was who would close the show: Travis has sold more albums than any country act since Alabama in the early ‘80s, but the Judds have had a longer string of No. 1 country singles. On this tour the stars have resolved the issue by taking turns--and it was the Judds’ turn to headline.

The duo--consisting of daughter Wynonna and mother Naomi--has a rootsy, no-frills sound that avoids the slickness and sentimentality of much country music. In fact, with their taut rhythms and spare instrumentation, many of their hits are closer in spirit to early rock than traditional country, so it was entirely fitting that they did tough, credible versions of old hits by Elvis Presley and Little Richard.

Wynonna is clearly the star of the act: She sings lead vocals and plays guitar, while Naomi does little more than sashay across the stage. If Wynonna ever decides to go solo, she could easily become what Linda Ronstadt was in the ‘70s--a superstar with a broad-based appeal to pop, rock and country audiences.

Travis doesn’t exhibit as much showmanship as the Judds, but he seemed looser and more relaxed than in past appearances. He even did a wicked parody of one of his biggest hits, “Diggin’ Up Bones.” For the most part, though, the North Carolinian just stands and sings, and in his case, that’s plenty.

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Travis specializes in soulful, mournful ballads of lost or unrequited love and in warm, gentle pledges of fidelity. He’s in the tradition of classic country singers, so it was appropriate when he sang a Hank Williams medley, and closed the show with Mickey Newbury’s “An American Trilogy,” which has been sung by numerous country greats.

The four-night engagement at the Amphitheatre ends tonight; the show plays the Pacific Amphitheatre on Sunday.


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