Old country singers never die; some don't even fade away -- not completely, anyway. Instead, they keep on making music, often with surprisingly good results. That, at least, was the case at Saturday night's concert at the Baltimore Arena featuring George Jones, Conway Twitty and Merle Haggard.
Most of the new generation of artists capturing the country music awards and captivating audiences and radio programmers weren't even alive when Mr. Jones, Mr. Twitty and Mr. Haggard began singing in the 1950s and early 1960s. Together, they number nearly 100 years of recording experience and probably half again as many albums. But these three showed they still have some kick left.
Despite the strength of their individual performances, the show suffered from an overall lack of spontaneity that could have made the evening truly electric. Incredibly, none of the performers joined the others on stage for a duet or trio that would have been different, if not memorable. The effect was like watching three back-to-back, 45-minute shows bearing no relation to one another.
Of the three aging stars, Mr. Haggard and Mr. Twitty shone the brightest.
Mr. Haggard's renowned band, the Strangers, is not the brilliant ensemble it once was, but it still is capable of infusing his country-blues with jazzy energy. Some of his standards, such as "Workin' Man Blues" and "Are the Good Times Really Over," had particular resonance in these newly troubled times. Others, such as "Okie From Muskogee" and "The Fightin' Side of Me," were delivered with more plaintiveness than pugnaciousness but were still salient.
From his opening signature song, "Hello, Darlin' " to his closing fragment of "It's Only Make Believe," Mr. Twitty demonstrated the same machine-like precision on stage that he has in his recording career. Pausing only to murmur a handful of thank-yous, Mr. Twitty rattled off powerful if not especially imaginative renditions of more than a dozen of his top hits, including his current single, "Crazy in Love." The set was marred only by his overly melodramatic reading of "The Rose."
Mr. Jones' performance suffered most from a lack of pacing. His inane banter and "Hee-Haw" style jokes prevented him from ever gaining much momentum. The pity of that is that when he did sing, this classic country singer was in fine form. His reading of "He Stopped Loving Her Today" was particularly spine-tingling.