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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Gatlins’ Clowning Dilutes Their Real Talent

Sometimes truly gifted artists get so caught up in being entertainers that they undermine their own talent. Such was the case with Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers at the Crazy Horse Steak House in Santa Ana on Monday.

Eldest brother Larry is a compelling songwriter, capable of capturing the essence of a tale in song. All three brothers are accomplished singers who alternate between a thick, powerful wall of harmony and a hushed, soft-as-down approach.

Glimpses of both were apparent Monday night; unfortunately, the Gatlins were so busy stopping songs to crack lame jokes that their true abilities may have gotten lost in the sold-out house.

They did settle down and get serious about making music for “Healing Stream,” a new song that featured the brothers on some very close three-part harmonies. With the four-man band off stage, their voices soared as Larry and Rudy played guitar.

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From there, Gatlin was left alone on stage for the aching ballad “The Heart.” Apologizing to the crowd in advance for any notes he might miss because of a bad case of the flu, he delivered a nonetheless lovely reading that showed his emotive skills to be on par with those of fellow crooner Gary Morris. But where Morris is one to go for extra flourishes, Gatlin kept things simple and riddled with emotion.

That made it particularly frustrating when the Gatlins insisted on so much goofing around, interrupting songs to talk to people in the audience, to pose for pictures twice in the same song and to humorously chide some fans for not being able to clap on the right beat. The Gatlin Brothers are capable of giving their audience so much more, yet they are content to offer half-baked renditions of songs they have been singing for years.

Certainly they have got all the components for greatness. Their set, though too short to include all their hits, is varied, from the Western swing of “Lady Takes a Cowboy” to the quiet ballad “Push Comes to Shove,” from the mid-tempo “Talkin’ to the Moon” to the gospel “Swing Down,” featuring their high-spirited church-honed harmonies.

The Gatlins go through their paces with ease, always sounding great. On “Houston,” Steve and Rudy took turns handling the leads, proving that they also possess lovely voices--Steve’s more reminiscent of Larry’s, Rudy’s with a more velvety tone than his siblings.

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After closing the show with “All the Gold in California,” featuring the obligatory crowd-participation segment, they returned for an encore of “Midnight Mission.” Once again, by turning to serious material, the brothers turned in a performance that was worthy of their ability.

Perhaps it’s because they play Las Vegas so often that the emphasis is more on keeping the customers satisfied than on delivering a show of substance and artistic merit.

Because few artists can match their vocal blend, Larry’s songwriting talent or interpretive skills as a singer, it’s a shame to see them sell themselves so short.


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