Don Williams took Bob McDill’s “Good Ole Boys Like Me” to No. 2 on the country charts back in 1980, and although it didn’t quite top the charts, most would contend it’s the best song Williams has ever recorded. So where to position it in a concert set list? Near the end, once the audience’s appetite is well-whetted? Perhaps as the encore?
Or maybe we’ll just knock that one out of the park the first time we step up to the plate, Williams must have figured as he opened Wednesday’s show at the Paramount Theatre with that timeless number. And when he reached for the higher notes of the unforgettable chorus – “I can still hear the soft Southern winds in the live oak trees” – it was clear that at age 75, Williams remains one of the finest singers country music has ever known.
He also has his own way of doing things, with no apologies. Presumably touring to support his new album “Reflections,” which features covers of songs by Merle Haggard, Townes Van Zandt and Jesse Winchester, Williams played exactly zero of that album’s tracks, instead front-loading his 19-song set with a greatest-hits batch of material.
The crowd seemed just fine with that. Backed by a six-piece crew providing, at various times, accents of accordion, fiddle, mandolin, harmonica and pedal steel in addition to the standard drums-bass-guitar-keyboards, Williams kept between-song patter to a minimum: “I don’t normally have a lot to say,” he explained after “Good Ole Boys,” “and I reckon that right now, that about covers it.” He headed straight into “Some Broken Hearts Never Mend” and rarely said much after that, other than a respectful introduction of his band members and the occasional punctuation of the audience’s adoring applause with his trademark soft-spoken exclamation: “Mercy!”
Given the depth of Williams’ catalog – he’s had more than 40 top-1o country hits – not everyone was going to get everything they wanted. I’d have loved to hear his 1977 chart-topper “I’m Just a Country Boy,” for example. But no one could really feel let down by a set list that ranged from beautiful ballads (“She Never Knew Me,” “Till the Rivers All Run Dry,” “Amanda”) to more upbeat tunes (“Back in My Younger Days,” “Tulsa Time,” the closing “Louisiana Saturday Night”) to the near-perfect country-pop crossover classic “I Believe in You.”
Colm Kirwan, an Irishman by way of Nashville, opened the show with a short set that included a handful of original tunes plus an a cappella rendition of his home-country chestnut “Danny Boy.” Though Kirwan was quite personable and impossible not to like, his material never really stood out as something special, and he talked a little too much for his own good. Perhaps it’s worth taking a cue from the headliner.
SET LIST:Good Ole Boys Like MeSome Broken Hearts Never MendLove Me Over AgainBack in My Younger DaysShe Never Knew MeEliseHow Did You Do ItFrom Now OnIf Hollywood Don’t Need YouTill the Rivers All Run DryIt Must Be LoveI Believe in YouImagine ThatTulsa TimeAmandaYou’re My Best FriendLord I Hope This Day Is GoodI Recall a Gypsy WomanLouisiana Saturday Night (encore)