Review - CMT Crossroads: Sugarland/Bon Jovi
I grew up in a time when music was highly genrefied. As high school students in the 80s we were expected to listen to a narrow range of music that defined our particular group to which we belonged in our schools. As I matured, I realized that this was an absurd notion. As I discovered in college, it is possible to appreciate a wide range of musical styles, yet I still resisted Country music for 25 years. The whole Garth Brooks era completely passed me by, so when I hear a Garth Brooks song now, it’s probably for the first time.
In America, we like to have things specifically delineated for us. Not so in other countries. Peter Furler, lead singer of Christian rockers Newsboys, said in an interview once that where he is from, Australia, there are no distinctions between this kind of music or that kind of music. There is just music. And that is how it should be. Yet I still resisted listening to Country music.
Then I discovered CMT - Crossroads. One night in late 2004 while surfing the cable channels I ran across Pat Benatar on CMT singing what sounded like a Country song. I vaguely remembered her putting out a somewhat Country-styled song shortly after 9/11, but this song she was singing did not sound like that one. I decided to watch the rest of the program. Pat Benatar, after all, was a favorite of mine from high school. It turned out that she was performing on Crossroads with Martina McBride and that was Martina’s song, "Independence Day" that she was singing. I was floored later in the show when Martina sang "Hit Me With Your Best Shot." I was soon hooked and began listening to Country music within days.
I like Crossroads. But, there are good Crossroads episodes and there are bad Crossroads episodes. The best episodes are the ones where the pop/rock artists and the country artists are equally familiar with each other’s music. The worst episodes are the ones where one or the other is totally unfamiliar with the music of the artist they are performing with.
The Keith Urban/John Fogarty Crossroads was a bad episode. Keith knew John’s music inside and out. He even played John’s music better than John. John, it was clear, had no clue what Keith Urban was all about and it showed in the performance. The Martina McBride/Pat Benatar Crossroads was a good episode. Martina was thoroughly familiar with Pat’s music. She was once the lead singer of a rock band that covered Pat Benatar tunes. Pat was probably not as familiar with Martina’s music as Martina was with hers, but it was clear that she and husband, Neil Geraldo, did their homework before going onstage. They are clearly consummate professionals and it showed in their performance.
The Sugarland/Bon Jovi Crossroads was another good episode. It was clear that each band knew the other band’s catalog very well and appreciated each other’s musical styles. Admittedly, Jon and the gang only had one CD to familiarize themselves with, but they obviously took the time to do their homework before taping the episode.
I had been trying to catch this episode since it first aired in October, but was unsuccessful due to job and production schedules. The other night, I finally caught the last half hour of the episode. I glued myself to the set to watch two of my favorites performing together.
I tuned in during the middle of "Wanted: Dead Or Alive," a country-styled rock song if ever there was one. Jennifer Nettles has an incredible rock-edged twangy voice that blends beautifully with Jon’s gritty Jersey rock voice. The harmonies and traded lines were amazing: raw, emotional, and expressive. I was particularly pleased to hear Sugarland’s fiddler playing the guitar solo in Richie Sambora’s stead.
This was followed up by a very passionate duet rendition of "Just Might (Make Me Believe)" in which Jennifer and Jon shared a stage moment that could only be described as the musical concert equivalent of an orgasm. Either Jon Bon Jovi is really THAT good an actor, or he was really into Jennifer as he sang to her. Sambora masterfully took over the solo duties from the steel guitarist. After the song, Jon joked that Kristin Hall had jokingly called the Jennifer - Jon pair "Jonnifer" which is appropriate for these two vocally and emotionally matched lead singers.
There were only two songs left in the show by this time, but they were well worth waiting for. "Have A Nice Day" was beautifully rendered as a country rock anthem with the "folkie" Sugarland musicians rocking just as hard as the former "hair" band. I especially loved the "heavy metal mandolinist," Kristian Bush, trading licks with Sambora. He proved that it’s not the size of the instrument that counts, but the music in it. Defiantly holding up the Bon Jovi tour angry menacing Kool Aid logo in his best heavy metal pose was the best finishing touch possible.
This, unfortunately, was where Jennifer showed her inexperience. Unlike the smooth, polished subtle acting performance of Jon earlier in the show, Jennifer was way over the top in her expressions on this number. I have noticed this in her videos and other live performances on other programs. Jennifer is a fabulously beautiful woman with a great voice, but she needs to learn how to smooth out her physical performance. She is too wide-eyed and overly passionate at times. She gave the lead singer equivalent of a "chewing the scenery" performance on "Have A Nice Day." With audiences of 20,000 at a vast distance, this might work, but with the close-up magnification of the camera, it is way too much.
The show ended with a live version of the duet, "Who Says You Can’t Go Home?" Spent and sweating, Jennifer and Jon offered up a gift of a song for the hometown fans, the recent video for which celebrates the efforts of Habitat for Humanity. What a great way to end a great high-energy show.
CMT needs to continue producing high-quality Crossroads episodes such as this one and needs to keep a close eye on how professionally the performers work toward understanding each other’s music while preparing the production. CMT should never let any of the performers, rockers or country musicians, sandbag and phone in a performance. Attention to this kind of detail will yield a continually satisfying product such as this episode.
**** out *****