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Who Charley Pride
What Pride's sweet baritone prevails
When May 15, 2008
Where Edmonton, AB
 

Country legend sings heartbreak with touching vulnerability

Let's parcel out a little respect for Charley Pride, shall we?

One of the most consistent hitmakers in country music history, Pride has for too long been relegated to the background of a genre he represents as surely as Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash or Willie Nelson. It's somewhat unfair; his astonishing baritone -- still warm and supple four decades after he started his career -- has always been the equal of the legends he pays homage to in concert, even if his material has been a little bland.

It's unfortunate but true: the Nashville treadmill has left its mark on Pride, yet somehow he rises above the middle-of-the-road designation he's been saddled with since the mid-'70s. Part of it is the voice. There's a vulnerability wired into tunes like Does My Ring Hurt Your Finger and I'm Just Me that puts an edge to their fatalism, a hurt quality that any Ray Price or George Jones fan would instantly understand.

Too many years of performing these tunes may have inevitably blunted what little edge they once owned, but the feeling is still there, even when he only takes a verse and a chorus on a truncated medley of Snakes Crawl at Night, Just Between You and Me and All I Have to Offer You is Me.

Backed by a crack quintet comprised of fiddle, guitars, drums and pedal steel, Pride entertained a sold-out crowd at the Jubilee on the first night of his two-night stand. While the show itself varied only slightly from his last visit, Pride himself was completely charming. He can take an audience by surprise, even completely ignoring them in order to listen to and chat off microphone with a fan up front (who may or may not have requested Crystal Chandeliers, but it sure looked and sounded as though Pride decided to slip it in earlier on the set list on request).

He brought out son Dion -- who also functions as his dad's opening act -- for Tennessee Girl, and delineated heartbreak George Jones-style with Where Do I Put Her Memory, wistfully gliding over lines like "I got rid of the pillow/where she used to lay her head" in a fashion that belied more than 50 years of marriage. Despite friendships with Willie and Waylon, Pride was always too straight-arrow to fit comfortably into the outlaw category. His metier was more the happy love and matrimony song.

Still, when he rolled out those commanding tones on Jim Reeves' classic He'll Have to Go, you could see where the man could snap a woman back into his arms if he so desired.

Pride touched on all the usual bases, from dedications to country music legends to observations on home and church. There was an homage medley to Cash, Jennings, Conway Twitty and Marty Robbins, a rocking take of Johnny Rivers' Mountain of Love, and a beautiful suite of gospel numbers that started and ended with I'll Fly Away.

If he was hammy at some moments, at others he would just let that unmistakable voice take over. And when he did so, he was all but infallible.

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Contact Tom Murray
Edmonton Journal (Canada)


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