Wayne Bledsoe: Singer Amy Grant weathers the changes in life and music

Amy Grant

Amy Grant

Amy Grant is not about to get the big head. If she ever did, her family would keep her in check.

Grant says that it was in the mid-1980s when her career was taking off, she'd just played a show at the Los Angeles Forum that had been attended by executives from A&M Records, the label with which she made the leap into mainstream music. The day after the show she made an excited call to her mom.

"I said, 'We sold out the Forum and these people from the record company came!' and there's a long pause and she says, 'No kidding? How many points did he score?"

Grant's mom was at a high school basketball game where Grant's nephew was up against the school's top rivals and, while she was happy for her daughter, the game was also important.

"It's the same now. If you came to my house and met my kids you'd have no idea that I ever got on a tour bus! I really like it like that."

That's pretty good, considering both Grant and her husband, Vince Gill, have at one time been among the most popular artists in contemporary Christian, pop and country music in their separate careers.

Grant will perform at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 27, at the Clayton Center for the Performing Arts in Maryville.

Grant is best known as the first artist to truly make the leap from contemporary Christian music to pop.

In the late 1970s and 1980s, Grant was the undisputed star of what was just then beginning to be referred to as "contemporary Christian" music. She was young (still in high school when her first album was recorded) and was an undeniably talented songwriter with youth appeal. With the albums "Unguarded" (1985) and "Lead Me On" (1988) Grant began to spread out and write songs with lyrics that were less overt and were more open to interpretation. There were also some straight ahead love songs. Contemporary Christian Music Magazine has since voted "Lead Me On" as the "best contemporary Christian album of all time."

In the early 1990s Grant continued to expand and conquered pop with the hits "Baby Baby," "Every Heartbeat," "That's What Love Is For," "Good for Me," "House of Love" and others.

These days, Grant is again more likely to have songs show up on Christian radio and perform in smaller theaters rather than arenas. The shows are more intimate and more casual, and there's less emphasis on the visuals and more on the music.

"Now people are just coming because of the music, and I get great pleasure from transforming a concert hall into something that feels like my living room."

And there are fewer shows, overall.

"I just sort of go where I'm invited," says Grant. "I used to go out for three or four months at a time and just go for it. Now I just go out on weekends unless we go out west."

Grant says she and the group can choose from about 50 songs and have occasionally worked up ones that they haven't prepared when visitors before the show make requests.

"Everyone wants to hear old songs," says Grant. "Nobody really cares about the new music, so when I sang a new song the other night I gave everyone permission to go to the bathroom!"

Still, she says the response to the song was excellent.

Grant, 51, says she's just happy to still be able to perform for a living.

"I really am so grateful to be able to do what I'm doing. I've had sleepless nights because I'm on the road and all that and I work very hard, but there's no drudgery in it."

Tickets for Grant's performance are $45 and $35 and are available at Knoxville Tickets outlets, www.knoxvilletickets.com and at 865-656-4444.

"Tempest," Bob Dylan (Columbia)

Bob Dylan has been counted out many times through the years.

Each time Dylan has returned with an album that reestablished him as perhaps the greatest songwriter alive, and each time fans and reviewers wonder "Will this be Bob's last?"

With Dylan now 72, that's ever more likely. But Dylan's new album, "Tempest," should make it clear that Dylan is still in the game and probably still has a lot more to say.

The problem with Dylan now, though, is not that critics will write him off. It's that they'll call everything he does a new masterpiece.

"Tempest" is clearly not that. It's simply another noble effort along the quality of Dylan's past two discs, "Modern Times" and "Together Through Life."

The album's peppy lead-off track (and single) "Duquesne Whistle" is an unlikely little triumph. The sweet opening guitar riff and happy little melody is in contrast to the raspy croak of Dylan's vocals, but it's vital and fun.

Unfortunately, the rest of the album offers diminishing returns as it goes on.

Dylan's lyrics still deserve close listens, "Pay In Blood" and "Scarlet Town," especially. However, Dylan's penchant for long songs is no longer an asset as when he was writing brilliant and beguiling numbers such as "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands."

The 14-minute title track, which fictionalized the story of Titanic, wears you out long before it's over, as do other 7- and 9-minute numbers.

It's pretty remarkable with as much as Dylan has delivered over the years that he's still making good music. But, no matter how much credit you give an artist for the triumphs of the past, it won't make a decent album into a great one.

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