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POP MUSIC REVIEW : You’ve Come a Long Way, Baillie : She and the Boys Show Spark and Feeling That Go Far Beyond the Jingle-Singing Days

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Baillie and the Boys may lack the individuality and personality it takes to be among the giants of country music, but married leaders Kathie Baillie and Michael Bonagura have come a long way since their days singing jingles for the likes of Burger King and Soft ‘n’ Dry. At the Crazy Horse Steak House on Monday, the pair and their band put on a vibrant if not earthshaking performance that was a far cry from Nashville’s hackneyed jingle mills.

The group’s 14-song set often was one-up on Nashville’s country-pop scene as well. Baillie and Bonagura aren’t above writing a formulaic song, but even then they manage to work in some feeling and novel little twists. And at their best, the two compose with a directness and veracity that suggests they may yet be a real boon to country music.

At their current evolutionary rung, Baillie and the Boys have had some solid chart successes but also have been dismissed by some critics for drawing more from ‘70s California rock than from country’s traditions. This is all too true--and their talents probably would be better served were they rooted in more substantial soil--but whatever the derivation, their music still has a spark of life to it.

On Monday, their “Perfect” bounced with an effervescent charm that sounded closer to Herman’s Hermits than to Hawkshaw Hawkins, but it did bounce. Other up-tempo numbers boasted a pop craftsmanship nearly worthy of Nick Lowe, further abetted by layered three- and four-part vocal harmonies.

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It was when the songs dug deeper, though, that Baillie came up with gold. The diminutive singer has a powerful, well-controlled voice, capable of conveying emotion when the songs warrant it. Among such songs Monday was the Bonagura-penned hit “Treat Me Like a Stranger,” a touching valentine about keeping love fresh.

“She Deserves You” was written, Baillie said, after hearing her sister’s husband had been seeing another woman. The song comes off like a cross between Ann Landers and Patsy Cline, with Baillie declaiming to the husband:

If she wants a man who’ll take a ring off his hand

Then turn around and say that he’ll be true,

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Then she deserves you.

The most promising number in the show was the largely acoustic ballad “I Can’t Turn the Tide.” There was a twilight ache to Baillie’s vocal, and the lyrics of resignation were underscored by Ed Black’s mournful lap steel guitar echoes.

Black, who played excellent pedal steel on most songs, and ex-Orleans co-founder Lance Hoppen on vocals and bass proved the standout members of the solid four-piece band behind Baillie and singer/guitarist Bonagura. Unlike too many touring country acts, Baillie and band did more than just play on autopilot, and clearly seemed to enjoy their time together onstage.

During the band introductions, the group lurched into Orleans’ hit “Still the One”; members also took impromptu stabs at “Wipeout,” George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun” and the Rev. Gary Davis’ “Prodigal Son,” the latter soloed by Black on an aged National lap steel.

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Other fresh moments included two new songs, “You’re My Weakness,” a ballad by Baillie and Vince Gill, and “Hot on the Heels of Love,” a perky (if forgettable) bit of pop. Also introduced was a beautifully rendered version of J.D. Souther’s “Faithless Love,” begun in a duo version by Baillie and Bonagura (who worked for years in the ‘70s as an acoustic duo), who were joined by Hoppen for a haunting a cappella finish.


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