John Anderson | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

John Anderson 

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Country's so-called "new traditionalist" movement--which felt its strongest, most eclectic blast in 1986, when Randy Travis, Dwight Yoakam, and Steve Earle unleashed major-label debuts--had a couple of late-70s/early-80s precursors in John Anderson and George Strait. While Strait has worked consistently and brilliantly through the ensuing years, fate was less kind to Anderson, who continued to record but took a free-fall off the charts. Less than a pretty boy and deemed too old to matter, he was out of sight and out of mind by the end of the 80s, which is why the mature 1992 Seminole Wind was aptly dubbed a comeback by critics. Several of its singles lit up country radio's frequently barren landscape with intelligence and substance. The Kent Robbins/Debbie Hupp tune "Straight Tequila Night" stood up as a trenchant analysis of inebriated pain on the distaff side, while Anderson's self-penned title track found him walking through a Florida glade, pained by the changes wrought by progress and sharing that pain with the ghost of Osceola. Last year's follow-up, Solid Ground, continued in a similar country-blues vein, juiced up with some rock-and-roll swagger. Anderson's voice remains a weird gift--just when he sounds ready to run out of breath, he delivers powerful phrasing, looping and stretching his deep, unhurried twang around the lyrics. Though back on top, he still has a few psychic wounds, as evidenced by his pointed cover of Bobby Braddock's "Nashville Tears," the story of some Music City washouts including a failed singer who literally ends up in the rubber room. For a man in the throes of a comeback, Anderson hasn't forgotten what a town without pity can do. Saturday, 8 PM, Star Plaza Theatre, 1-65 and U.S. 30, Merrillville, Indiana; 734-7266.

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