When Trisha Yearwood cut loose with a powerful, bluesy wail during “Say You Will” toward the end of her Universal Amphitheatre concert on Saturday, she immediately deflated the drama by interrupting it for a joking aside.
The moment typified the country star’s frustrating inability to make her formidable voice and adventurous tastes add up to the transcendent experience that’s within her reach. Her apparent nervousness kept her from commanding the stage and sustaining the spell, leaving the heart of the music just out of the listener’s reach.
Yearwood tried to make things up-close and down-to-earth by prefacing the show with a biographical video and placing some living-room furniture on the stage and to dispel her nervousness by chatting about it repeatedly. When she hit her stride musically, she was an absorbing singer, with a richly vibrant tone and a precise control of dynamics that allowed her to lend shape and movement to the emotional substance.
Her set ranged from upbeat pop-inflected country to sophisticated, introspective folk-pop. And when she turned to others’ material, it was Melissa Etheridge and, more intriguingly, songs identified with Marlene Dietrich (“Falling in Love Again”) and Judy Garland (“Over the Rainbow”). She has a voice that might allow her to fulfill this Ronstadt-like ambition, but she needs to relax and let it soar.
Short of Don Henley, Yearwood couldn’t have picked a better partner to sing the Henley part on “Walkaway Joe” than opening act Collin Raye, whose own set was highlighted by a Henley-edged vocal tone that was gripping when the material was strong.