“This is year number three,” Pam Tillis crowed at the Crazy Horse on Monday, “and we’re still out there making records and having hits. It’s amazing, I’ve still got a job!”
More than that, the country star’s performance showed she has grown to fill that job remarkably well. The bit of spunk that was hinted at in her singing three years ago has blossomed, so that she now spices up a novelty lyric with the sass of a mid-career Dolly Parton, and her serious singing has become a thing of its own.
In her 14-song set, Tillis was often able to make even microwaved Nashville fare seem like home cooking. She took the hackneyed “Do You Know Where Your Man Is” and dragged it into serious Tammy Wynette country with a vocal that seemed heartfelt, if acknowledgedly indebted to Wynette in its phrasing.
The acoustic setting of a brief “unplugged” segment was ideal for her voice, which proved to have far more nuance and character than her typical belting allows to shine through. Its highlight was “Melancholy Child"--clearly a personal lyric, telling of a young mother, a father on the road and a child with “a black Irish temper and some solemn Cherokee.”
Tillis sang it as such, with a sad ache and a dollop of hope. If more of her performance could connect with the emotion she found here, Tillis would be in a class with Emmylou Harris.