At the House of Blues, Chuck Mead's affection for country music was abundantly clear.
On Back at the Quonset Hut, the joy Chuck Mead experienced singing classic country hits is obvious, and that enthusiasm carried over to his performance at the House of Blues last night. His love of country wasn't just obvious; it was the point of the show. From bits of shtick to stagecraft conventions to the performance of the songs themselves, it was country as a tradition and a sound and a set of musical values that was on display more than individual lyrics or changes. As a singer, he clearly took pleasure in working his way through the tongue-twister lyrics of the trucking song, "Girl on the Billboard by the Highway," and he was swinging his phrasing of "Honky Tonk Hardwood Floor" right with the band. If there was anything unsatisfying about the show, it's that the band was really in a great place for the last few songs, so much so that I wondered how hot the next half-hour would have been if he'd have had one.
So why isn't Mead bigger? My theory is that he's too good at what he does. He's an effortless singer, and he writes songs that sit comfortably next to classics, but the craft in them isn't showy and the changes are so in the voice of country that his hand barely shows. In America today, we like musicians who work, whether it's obvious demonstrations of songcraft, physical demonstrations of talent, or the crazy dexterity of guitar soloists. Pop stars sell but they aren't taken seriously because their recordings often dare you to try to find an authentic moment of work on the part of the singer. On the other hand, part of Bruce Springsteen's success is that he figured out how to make stage effort by turning his shows into marathons during which he obviously works. He has developed stances to play the guitar that require the flexing of muscles. He presents himself as a working class guy, and despite the money he certainly must have now, that stance is partially made credible by his backstory and partially by the sweaty, blue-collar nature of his show. Guys who make it look easy like Chuck Mead get overlooked in the process.