The Austin Chronicle

Mandy Barnett at Central Market 38th, August 25

Reviewed by Christopher Gray, September 3, 1999, Music

Mandy Barnett

Central Market 38th, August 25

Divas don't function well when they're not the center of attention. Certainly what Mandy Barnett was up against at this installment of KGSR's Blues on the Green, or rather Blues in the Dirt, would have worked Leontyne Price or Cher's last nerve. A bona fide Houston-style traffic snafu to start off the evening, kids and dogs kicking up Lubbock-sized dust clouds, a suspect sound system, and an audience clearly more interested in the latest eTrade hiccups than what's happening onstage don't usually add up to a magical evening. Even the $2.50 hot dog was lame. If this is the future of live music in Austin, I'd prefer a dip in that foul, weed-choked thing that passes for the Central Park "pond." Though Barnett could hardly be faulted for wanting to cast her booking agent lakeward, in reality the not-yet-25 Tennessean was every bit the gracious Southern belle, her patience wearing thin only near the end of her second set when she answered an ill-timed request (for Patsy Cline, no doubt) with "Just hold your horses. This is my show." If only. Clad in a Corvette-red, off-the-shoulder ruffly señorita gown, and unafraid of stretching to hit those hard-to-reach notes, Barnett gamely reprised most of her wonderful album I've Got a Right to Cry in her first set -- the one where there was still enough light to see her. For a while, her voice made it worthwhile. Husky but not raspy, and equally suited to the breezy "Who," the frisky "Falling, Falling, Falling," and the near-operatic "With My Eyes Wide Open I'm Dreaming," it meshed seamlessly with her band (including seasoned Nashville cats Harold Bradley on guitar, Buddy Harmon on drums, and bassist Ernie Sikes), if less so with the constantly feeding back PA. The six-piece outfit's precise playing evoked the golden days of Tootsie's on just about every song. They even looked the part -- all Sunday-go-to-meetin' attire and George Jones helmet-hair, those that still had any. A few brave couples tried tentative two-stepping (how could you not to Ray Price's "Pride"?), but dancing is difficult with toddlers and terriers abounding underfoot. This may be some people's idea of a good time, but Barnett deserved a more captive audience. This Central Market thing may have been her first Texas appearance, but her first real Austin show will be when she comes back and plays the Continental Club or Paramount Theatre.

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