When Razzy Bailey sang "Anywhere There's a Jukebox" at the Wax Museum last night, it came over as a somewhat self-conscious and patronizing tribute to bars, liquor, fast women and country music legends. In contrast, Earl Thomas Conley's set took these topics to heart with the conviction of a young artist who's shooting to be a legend.
Although Bailey tried a few songs with a real country feel, his forte was melodramatic pop songs such as his hip "She Left Love All Over Me." It was on the ballads that Bailey's intimate, crooning style, nondescript as it is, was put to best advantage. Aw, shucks, Bailey really came off as a lounge singer made good.
Conley turned in a set of solid honky-tonk that blended some wonderful melodies with a tough country-rock attack. It wasn't just Conley's nasal twang, strongly reminiscent of George Jones, that rendered him so authentically country, but also the sincerity with which he delivered his autobiographical tales of barroom attraction and rejection. Conley's current hits, the fast-moving "Somewhere Between Right and Wrong" and the woeful "Dreaming As I Do," both seem more personal and introspective in concert than on the radio. And his beautiful rendition of his own "Smokey Mountain Memories" rooted Conley firmly in the long tradition of mountain music.