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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Oslin Stakes Out Distinctive Turf

It’s no longer a novelty to see an independent, forceful woman in country music, but K.T. Oslin is still an anomaly.

She was in her early 40s when her career clicked into gear five years ago, so she’s a kind of mature novice. And though her three albums have been country hits, the singer-songwriter has staked out a defiantly distinctive turf, an area of sophisticated song-craft whose links to country music are often tangential at best.

During one stretch of songs at her Greek Theatre concert on Sunday, Oslin offered some soul-tinged pop, a piece of gently propulsive pop-rock cut from Fleetwood Mac cloth, a rocker with a New Orleans gait, and a sultry version of the quirky R&B; oldie “Love Is Strange.” Country’s return to traditionalism missed Oslin by a mile: Sax and keyboards anchored her band, and there wasn’t a fiddle or a pedal steel in sight.

But rather than recall the taint of compromise associated with country’s watered-down crossover era, Oslin--whose Southern upbringing was supplemented with work in Broadway musicals and jingle recording sessions--is simply following her musical instincts with refreshing freedom.

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The result is a series of varied settings for her deftly drawn depictions of love and life. Whether the scale is intimate (“Hold Me”) or epic (“ ‘80s Ladies”), Oslin finds the particulars that personalize the stories and bring the characters to life. She joked Sunday about a country opera she hasn’t written yet, but the fact is that she sometimes does seem like a playwright trapped in a songwriter’s life.

She delivered her tales at the Greek in a rangy, bluesy voice that gained strength and nuance as the show progressed. The only thing missing was a real sense of occasion. She tested just one new song Sunday, leaving the show without an edge of anticipation and freshness.


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