Keith Urban, two ways

by Alison Bonaguro

Special to the Tribune

Published April 1, 2009


Keith Urban owns this week. On Monday night, he played Joe's Bar in Chicago. And on Tuesday, the platinum-selling country music phenom released his latest CD, "Defying Gravity." Either way you hear Urban, he's definitely in his happy place.

The show: You'd never have known it was a Monday night. Not with the way the capacity crowd at Urban's two-hour show was packed tight, ready for a party.

With a five-man band delivering pounding rhythms and fervent banjo, Urban seemed exhilarated enough to fill the space with music fresh off his new album. The latest single, "Kiss a Girl," ignited the crowd, and even the heavy percussion and loping melody of "'Til Summer Comes Around" didn't stop the fans from staying locked on Urban's every move. He stretched the gig with classic tunes from as far back as 2002 with "You Look Good in My Shirt," and other hits such as "Stupid Boy," "Somebody Like You" and "Days Go By." Urban went solo for two power ballads, and though cover songs aren't a staple in his live shows, Urban sounded at home on the 1982 Tommy Tutone hit "867-5309/Jenny."

The crowd was buzzing with the thrill of seeing Urban, normally an arena act, in such a small venue. But to Urban, the size didn't matter. He put on the same long, energetic show, even though he could have knocked off an hourlong CD release set.

The CDBefore you hit play, the song titles on this 11-track effort tell the story of "Defying Gravity." With a track list that includes songs titled "My Heart is Open," "Only You Can Love Me This Way" and "If Ever I Could Love" can only mean one thing: Urban's is a good way. Especially on the album's last track: The straightforward piano-fueled "Thank You" comes across as a five-minute ode to marriage: "I thank you for my heart/I thank you for my life/I thank God for grace and mercy/and that you became my wife." So if it's angst you want, you'll find it on Urban's older albums.

But the love fest isn't all mellow ballads. Urban has a knack for charging into songs with hard-driving guitar such as on "Sweet Thing" and "Hit the Ground Runnin'," a couple of the gems on the album. And while the first track, "Kiss a Girl," sounds like it could be just another country rocker, it has enough ganjo (six-string banjo) to cultivate that distinctive Urban touch.

What's good about an album with less brooding is that nothing is buried in the lyrics. Urban wears his heart on his sleeve. And if art is imitating life, that heart must be content.

Keith Urban will be back in Chicago May 15 at the Allstate Arena.


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