The definitive interpretation of “What Hurts the Most,” the No. 1 country hit by Rascal Flatts, comes not from that group but from the song’s writer, Jeffrey Steele. Rascal Flatts wiped the song clean of anguish, but Mr. Steele, as seen in any number of YouTube clips, howls it like a torture victim. At Joe’s Pub on Wednesday night he hammered at a piano and sang it severely, killing the chatter in the room. In the context of his bruised vocal, even when his fingers fell on the wrong keys, it sounded right.

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