Flying high

By PAULETTE FLOWERS Published:

You could tell what kind of year Blaine Larsen was having on the night of his 20th birthday. He was singing before 10,000 fans in the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Va., Feb. 2 when a friend wearing a T-shirt and baseball cap and carrying a birthday cake, candles ablaze, walked to where he was standing at center stage. The friend Blaine's touring partner Gretchen Wilson got to the microphone and led the crowd in a rousing and heartfelt rendition of "Happy Birthday to You," then walked back offstage to continue preparing for her own portion of the show. "I never in a million years expected her to do something like that," he says. "And the cake was good, too!"

But Blaine has had quite a wild ride since the release of his first album, "Off to Join the World." He's toured with Kenny Chesney and become part of the Redneck Revolution Tour with Wilson and Van Zant. As if that weren't enough, he also earned a pilot's license, married his longtime girlfriend, Sammie, and began building a house outside Nashville.

Now, at an age when most people are perusing career possibilities, Blaine is releasing his second album, "Rockin' You Tonight." Kicked off by the fast-rising single "I Don't Know What She Said," a fun and energetic look at romance and language barriers in Old Mexico, the new project is a giant step forward for Blaine. His first record was, essentially, "some songs I liked," cut in a tiny studio for an astoundingly inexpensive $8,000, with an eye to selling the result at gigs in the Seattle area and maybe picking up a little incidental airplay.

Instead, Blaine scored two hit singles off the album, the poignant "How Do You Get That Lonely" and "The Best Man," which established him as a force to be reckoned with.

"Rockin' You Tonight" fulfills all the promise of "Off to Join the World," with songs that range from the tender "I'm in Love With a Married Woman" and the reflective "At the Gate," through the attitude of "No Woman" and the sheer fun of the title cut and "Spoken Like a Man," to the depth of the challenging call-to-action "Someone Is Me."

Blaine Larsen's original ambition may have been to be a pilot, but with "Rockin' You Tonight," he's flying high in country music.

QUIBBLES 'N BITS

Funny How Time Slips Away Dept.: We lost one of the great ones, folks, when Grand Ole Opry star Billy Walker (77), his wife/manager, Bettie (61), and band members Charles Lilly Jr. (44) and Daniel Patton Sr. (40) died when their van crashed on Interstate 65 early on the morning of May 20. The group was returning to Nashville after a performance in Foley, Ala. The Walkers' grandson Joshua Brooks, 21, of Hendersonville, Tenn., was also critically injured in the one-vehicle crash. Known as the "Tall Texan," Billy had been a member of the Grand Ole Opry for 46 years and had numerous hits, including "Funny How Time Slips Away," "Cross the Brazos at Waco" and "Charlie's Shoes." Besides losing his smooth tenor voice, country music has lost one of the most loving and caring couples in the business.

Somebody Should Leave Dept.: You've got to wonder about a television network whose first move is to cancel "Reba," but that's just what the new WB-UPN merged network CW did. So, what's on Fridays this fall instead? A two-hour block of WWE "Friday Night SmackDown!" But CW did order 13 new episodes of "Reba" to use as a replacement show in case any of its new shows fail. If the CW suits want to see a real "smackdown," they ought to go to a meeting of Reba McEntire's fan club during Fan Fair!

Rough Cuts Quote of the Week: "If performers are not linked to nominations, why not just have a variety show?" What veteran Music Row manager Erv Woolsey said, according to The Tennessean newspaper, about the Academy of Country Music not inviting Lee Ann Womack to perform at its awards show. Lee Ann was nominated for three awards this year, but she was not invited to perform, so she made other plans rather than attending.

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