Rodney Hayden

Rodney Hayden -- In explaining how she eventually started singing the same music as her famous father, Rosanne Cash observed that you have to have lived a bit before you can appreciate country. The Man in Black's daughter made this cogent observation more than two decades ago, back when country music addressed mature concerns -- hell, even a teenage Tanya Tucker sang "Would You Lay with Me (in a Field of Stone)" -- and revered its elders with a respect approaching Chinese ancestor worship. It's no surprise that the Country Music Hall of Fame predates rock and roll's hall by decades.

But in today's Nashville, the accent is firmly on youth, much to the detriment of the music. So if Rodney Hayden's baby face gives the dedicated fan of true country pause, do not worry. When the 20-year-old opens his mouth, what comes out is, to quote a song in his repertoire, "The Real Thing." Hayden already has years under his belt as a performer and possesses a preternaturally adult voice that rings with the spirit of the Grand Ole Opry, back when it resided at the Ryman Auditorium rather than a theme park. The fact that he covers Wayne Hancock and Robbie Fulks on his demo CD only underscores Hayden's dedication to country music as it was and should be.

Tutored in the dance halls and honky-tonks of South Texas, this Pleasanton native is being guided by the management company run by Robert Earl Keen and wife Kathleen, two good signs that Music City isn't about to seduce this young'un into playing the pop-country game. He's off to an honorable start in his career and is worth seeing, and not just for his precocious abilities as a singer, performer and writer. Hayden may not have yet carved out his signature sound, but half the fun will be watching him do so.

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Rob Patterson