There's something about listening to a country musician in a three-piece business suit singing ". . . busted flat in Baton Rouge . . . feelin' faded as my jeans" that challenges the imagination. The Tennessee Mountain Boys opened the Smithsonian's concert at Baird Auditorium in that fashion last night, but soon yielded center stage to a woman whose credibility is beyond question: Kitty Wells.

Though best known for the many hits she recorded in the '50s, Wells still sings in a simple, unaffected manner that's become all too rare in contemporary country music. Her nasal, Appalachian twang remains one of the most distinctive voices in the field and she delivered such songs as "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" with disarming honesty.

For most of the program, however, Wells played second fiddle, so to speak, to her husband, Johnny Wright, and her son, Bobby, both singers. Wright is a showman through and through--from the tip of his orange cowboy hat to the cuffs of his violet sequined suit. With considerable charm, he hawked Wells' albums on stage and off (including 8-track tapes), and hammed it up whenever the opportunity arose. In a show as informal as this one, the opportunities were many.