John Anderson Charms Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s CMA Theater: Live Review

John Anderson CMA Theater
Nashville, Tenn.Aug. 8, 2019

Sitting onstage at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s CMA Theater, John Anderson smiled as he told the audience about meeting Emmylou Harris as a young artist. Dressed all in black, his eyes twinkled as he recalled every young male country singer’s fantasy.
 “She walked right up and said, ‘I’ve been wanting to meet you,’” he recalled. “And I said, ‘Well,  I’ve been wanting to meet you, too.’” 
Pausing to let the tension build,  he continued, “Then she said,  ‘Who is that girl singing on ‘Wild & Blue’?’”
That girl was Anderson’s sister Donna, who was in the house, along with a great many key friends and family members. For the man who paved an aggressive hard country stripe that blazed through swamps, alleys across the country pop of the day with his self-titled 1980 debut, the evening’s man ’n’ acoustic guitar unplugged treatment served as a career overview as well as demonstrating the Nashville Songwriter Hall of Famer’s deftness as a strong player.
All that to be said, it’s Anderson’s voice that matters. With a strong, cutting component that is as pungent as it is strong in the mid-range, he can bend, twist, loft, extend and wring not just the note, but the emotion dry.
From the moment he bounced into Billy Joe Shaver’s once prophetic, now reality-based “Old Chunk of Coal,” Anderson savored every note.  He was stately on Marijohn Wilkin’s ultimate cheating song “Long Black Veil,” wryly attenuated on the later career No. 1 “Money In The Bank,” slightly foreboding on Mark Knopfler’s all-consuming “When It Comes To  You”  and note-stretchingly busted-hearted on “I Just Came Home To Count The Memories.”
It’s that versatility and staunch hardcore attack that gives Anderson the skeleton key to classic country’s intensity without succumbing to camp.  Because a John Anderson show turns hard on the old school stuff that’ll drop you with its twang, tang and candor.
Anderson’s take on John Scott Sherrill’s “Wild & Blue,” also a standard in Lucinda Williams’ sets these last several years, skins the damned song. Taking carnal obsession in the midst of utter rejection, the Apopka, Fla.-born and -raised star yowled, yodeled and hit the notes straight on as he lays out the truth: not only is the cuckolded hero emotionally bruised and destroyed, but the cheater isn’t filling the hole in her soul, either.
Great country music – at its core – works profound emotions in ways that keep it simple, even in the complexity that all humans are. “Straight Tequila Night,” another of the latter day chart-toppers, finds a perfectly sweet single woman yearning for connection – unless the demons start guzzling tequila, unleashing all her bitter, nasty resentments. 
Even “1959,”  dedicated to his wife because it was the song she requested on the night they met, has a bone-chilling truth to the way first love intensity clings, even after the girl moves on.  With a chorus tag of those pledge of forever letters signed “Love, Betty. 1959,” it is a fidelity to a memory to rival George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
Ahhhh, grown up emotions! Once the bedrock of a genre now taken over by frat iconography, Anderson’s ability to inflate the story line with urgency makes them accessible to all.  At a time when Jones, Merle Haggard,  Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings are gone, Anderson – with just multi-stringed sideman Glen Root – maintains the white hot pilot light of what the genre should be. 
Never mind during the ‘80s, he was also one of the genre’s most progressive voices – exploring Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love,” Bobby Womack’s “All Over Now,” the ZZ Top-invoking kink of “Do You Have A Garter Belt” and the Native American lonesome of his personal “Seminole Wind.” Today, like when he arrived over four decades ago, it is the way he revitalizes the uncompromising country of rednecks, hillbillies and good ole boys that defined the genre pre-Urban Cowboy.