Judging by all the traffic snarled between Route 66 and the Patriot Center Friday night, an all-too-familiar tie-up that turned a 10-minute journey into one four times as long, not a few fans arrived too late to hear Lorrie Morgan open for Clint Black and Alabama.
No complaints were heard once Black stepped onstage, wearing his trademark black hat and tight jeans. Although he's not in Alabama's superstar league, Black is certainly headed in that direction. Playing guitar and harmonica alongside a sharp fiddle- and pedal-steel-driven band, he sang in a manner that often brought to mind Merle Haggard's unvarnished voice, as well as his deep affection for country-western swing styles. Not surprisingly, solid versions of the hits "Killin' Time" and "A Better Man" drew the loudest responses from the crowd, but some of Black's best performances involved less typical tunes, including the philosophic "Live and Learn" and a rousing remake of James Taylor's "Steamroller Blues."
For all the ovations -- standing, squealing and otherwise -- that Black's good looks and honky-tonk voice generated, Alabama was still the evening's biggest crowd pleaser. Once again, lead singer Randy Owen was nothing if not energetic and personable, customizing a decade of hits for the folks from "Fairfax, Virginia" and leading boisterous sing- and clap-alongs on "High Cotton," "If You're Gonna Play in Texas" and other favorites. Despite Jeff Cook's exemplary guitar and fiddle work, however, and several attempts to enliven the show with cuts from the band's new album, "Pass It On Down," the old formulas often sounded tired and bland.