“Raymond,” the debut single from Nashville newcomer Brett Eldredge, is one of those devastating country songs that can break the heart of even the most cynical listener. Centered on a sweet, elderly woman with Alzheimer’s who thinks a nursing home employee is her long-deceased son, Raymond, the song could have been saccharine — but Eldredge’s strong, rich voice and emotional attachment to the story turn it into a truly touching tale.
“A small white cross in Arlington reads ‘Raymond Davis ‘71’ / Until she can see his face again, I’m gonna fill in the best I can,” Eldredge crooned Friday night at Cancun Cantina in Hanover, explaining that he wrote the lyrics to heal after learning that his own grandmother had the disease.
The song, currently all over country radio, was obviously the crescendo of the concert, which presented the challenge of keeping a live performance going when its biggest moment is utterly tragic. To his credit, Eldredge seemed well aware of this fact, and managed to both pay tribute to the serious nature of the tune and capitalize on the crowd energy at the same time.
“All right, you guys know that one!” Eldredge exclaimed after finishing the song, his only tune on country radio from his still-unreleased first album.
And before you could say “well, that was depressing,” the singer launched into the rest of his hour-long set, a mix of upbeat, rocking tunes and slower ballads. About 50 people crowded around the stage, while others made good use of the back of the room for line dancing.
Not all of Eldredge’s material is as personal as his single — the Paris, Ill., native covered the well-worn country topics of love, heartbreak, small-town upbringing and drinking copious amounts of alcohol.
“It’s time to turn up the party,” Eldredge announced before breaking into “Thirsty” – a rollicking song he co-wrote that wound up on the “Country Strong” soundtrack, albeit sung by Hank Williams Jr.
Arriving on stage with a drink in hand, and at one point happily accepting a shot glass from an audience member, Eldredge strummed his guitar, danced, and generally gave the impression of a guy who can’t quite believe he has a song climbing the Billboard country charts — currently No. 25 — but wants to enjoy it while he can.
After a string of covers — from Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker” to The Proclaimers’s “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” — Eldredge bid good night as his band played him off the stage with the music from “Raymond.” With his knack for entertaining, and a promising start to a country music career, he’ll be remembered as more than just the guy who sang that really sad song.