Charley Pride will not appear at the Merriweather Post Pavilion, as a caption in yesterday's Weekend reported, but at the Burtonsville Lions Den.
Years ago, when singer Ronnie Milsap made the jump from gritty R&B to country, he rightfully explained that it didn't matter, soul was soul, white or black. But how would he explain his recent plunge into middle-of- the-road pop, where there is hardly a hint of his distinctive soulfulness left?
His latest album, INSIDE RONNIE MILSAP, kicks off with his successful but innocuous remake of Chuck Jackson's 1962 hit, "Any Day Now." The song, like almost everything here, has a glossy string-and-synthesizer arrangement, and makes use of only the smoothest part of what once was one of the most emotionally charged and spontaneous singing voices in Nashville.
When Milsap does try to rock a little on "I Love New Orleans Music," supposedly a stomping tribute to Crescent City's musical glories, the results are discouraging. What was once natural for Milsap (i.e., swinging through a funky groove) now seems forced, as he shouts trite, tourist-brochure lyrics over some ludicrous mock-Dixieland. Only on "He Got You," a current hit, does Milsap sing with the unpredictable falsetto swoop and cracked-throat anguish that caused him to be called the white Ray Charles. Only here do you get any hint of what was once inside Ronnie Milsap.
Given that many country-music fans spent their teenage years in the rock'n'roll '50s, it's not surprising that one of the most successful hit-making strategies in Nashville is to retread a golden oldie. It's worked for Narvel Felts, Mickey Gilley and many others, and now Charlie Pride has profitably put it to work with his version of Harold Dorman's classic, "Mountain of Love." There's nothing wrong with Pride's version -- it may be the most memorable thing on his new album, CHARLIE SINGS EVERYBODY'S CHOICE -- but Pride couldn't have stuck closer to the original with Crazy Glue. Over the last few years Pride has been slipping into the easy-listening rut with such steady certainty that it's easy to forget his wonderful baritone could once render a Hank Williams song well enough to threaten the original. His deep twang and drawl are still intact, but his new album, mostly a selection of upbeat romantic ballads, eschews the darker honky-tonk themes of infidelity, revenge and despair that were once Pride's forte. Norro Wilson's arrangements are unobtrusive enough and Pride's phrasing is smooth throughout, but only "I Hope You Never Cry Again," an up-tempo rocker with funny lyrics, hits a down-home stride.
THE RECORDS, THE SHOWS THE ALBUMS: Inside Ronnie Milsap (RCA AHL1- 4311). Charlie Sings Everybody's Choice (RCA AHL1- 4287).
THE CONCERTS: Ronnie Milsap and Stella Parton, 7:30 Friday at Meriweather Post Pavilion. Charley Pride with Ronnie McDowell, Terri Gibbs, Janie Fricke and others, Sunday, noon to 7:30 at the Burtonsville Lions Club.