In the movie "Tender Mercies," a young country band pulls up to the filling station being run by the great - but burned out - country singer Mac Sledge. All they want is a piece of advice.
Sledge thinks a moment."Sing it like you feel it, fellas," he tells the boys.
So obvious, so simple. And so tough to do. And country fans don't hear that kind of singing half as much as they thing they do. Country music today is full of sophisticated guys faking Southern accents (hello, Sawyer Brown), rockers passing themselves off as ranchers (are you listening Garth and Ricky Van?) and educated, savvy women behaving like Daisy Mae. Such people "sing it as if they felt it," so it sells.
A fan could get down right cynical if it weren't for singers like Dan Seals.
Seals was in Salt Lake City again Saturday night for a couple of hours of honest, easy listening: not all country but all honest. Oddly enough he complained about the altitude stealing his breath - I say "oddly" because the only singer who may work less on stage is Randy Travis, but other than that, the show was typical Dan Seals fare: heartfelt, nostalgic, low-key and fun.
Like the singer.
Seals made sure he included the songs people had come to hear - "Big Wheels in the Moonlight," "God Must Be a Cowboy," "LOA," "My Old Yellow Car" and "They Rage On." But about 20 minutes into the show, something strange happened. Off came the cowboy hat, off went the guitar, and Seals became Dan Seals "saloon singer on the prowl." He did "You Still Move" like the guys with velvet pipes (Tony Bennett, for instance). He slowed "Everything that Glitters" down to a torchy ballad, took out the yodel and sang the song closer to the way Willie does "Stardust" than the rodeo song the radio's play.
Was this a "new" Dan Seals being born again?
Time will tell.
Toward the end he hauled out the sax for several numbers - a favorite part of the set for local fans. "C'Mon and Let the Good Times Roll," "Guitar Man" and "Bop" sounded even more jazzed up than normal.
Then he brought things home with a nice encore on "One Friend."
As for the opening act, John McEuen was his old nitty-gritty self, plucking the banjo, bowing the fiddle and strumming the mandolin and guitar. More than he's done in the past, McEuen turned the stage over to his son Jonathan, who played a couple of bluesy numbers with his brother and Jeff Hanna's kid.
A knock-off of the Jimi Hendrix electric guitar version of "The Star Spangled Banner" didn't play well at all, however, despite the balloons from the ceiling and spotlight on the flag.
Nicest moment came on "Orange Blossom Special" as the elder McEuen broke up the choruses with talking verses, a la C.W. McCall.
In the end, nothing much new - but no complaints.
A lot like country music itself . . . the "sing it like you feel it" kind, that is.