Review: Jason Mraz, Heart soar at Country Music Hall of Fame benefit

LOS ANGELES-Jason Mraz and Heart may not be the first names that you think of when you think of country music (or the last), but the two acts fit in perfectly at Tuesday night”s (5) All for the Hall benefit for Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame.

They joined Vince Gill and Emmylou Harris in an old-fashioned guitar pull at Club Nokia. For the uninitiated, guitar pulls feature artists in a circle or line as they perform round-robin style accompanied only with a guitar.

It marked the first time the event had been held in Los Angeles in three years and to tie in with Hollywood, the event was hosted by Rita Wilson, who declared herself a country music convert especially since she has been spending time in Nashville writing with some top-tier songwriters.

Southern Californian Mraz proved to be the crowd favorite, especially after he performed hits, “I Won”t Give Up” and an extended version of “I”m Yours,” that showcased his sweet, clear voice beautifully.

“It”s a treat to hear another man singing up there like the women do,” Gill joked to Mraz. “I”ve got the highest voice in my family and I live with four females.”

As with all great guitar pulls, the evening provided a chance for artists to collaborate together. Heart and Harris performed a heartbreaking version of Gillian Welch”s “Orphan Girl” together,  then Gill joined the Wilson sisters for  Gene Clark”s ’60s classic, “Through the Morning, Through the Night.”

Gill told the story of writing his bittersweet “Whenever You Come Around” based on the first time he met his now wife Amy Grant, and then announced the he”d just found that that Willie Nelson had cut the song. “I”m over the moon about that, ” he said.

If Mraz”s voice had the ability to warmly wash over the crowd, Heart”s Ann Wilson”s pipes shook up to the rafters.  She has lost none of her voice”s power or tone, as she showed on “Dog and Butterfly” and “Sand,” a touching song written following the death of her gardener from AIDs several years ago.

The evening left me wondering if today”s top pop stars have the chops to appear in a guitar pull where they are singing live by themselves with no embellishment, back-up singers or auto tune and accompanied only by an acoustic guitar.  And, sadly, i”m not so sure.  Among the top pop artists right now, I”d bet on Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga, Pink, and, oddly enough, Miley Cyrus (if you”ve seen her sit still and sing “Jolene,” you know she can do it.

I ran into Mraz as we were both entering Club Nokia. He told me he”s just finished a new album and he”s getting ready to hit the road to “test” the songs in theaters.  His 9-date acoustic tour, which only covers the West Coast,  starts March 15 in Santa Cruz, Calif.