Lyle Lovett & His Acoustic Group (photo: Carolyn McCoy)
Words by Carolyn McCoy
Texas country crooner Lyle Lovett is a bit grayer with his famous hair than the last time I saw him. He is probably a bit wiser too, I would imagine, given the fact that he has been at the professional music game for over 30 years. At his recent Uptown Napa show, in support of his current tour, Lovett stated that when he was a kid, he realized he could make a living at songwriting because it was easier than mowing his parents’ lawn, and from there, things took off on a long and winding career that has spawned so many songs.
Lovett has a dedicated fan base, and I’m part of it. His music has been part of The Soundtrack Of My Life for almost as long his career itself. His songs have carried me through love and heartbreak, too many bad decisions, and countless road trips. His music is as much a part of my DNA as any other profound force in my life. His songs are stories, poetic journeys that deliver humor, sadness, and joy.
In the past, Lovett has toured with His Large Band, a 20-piece group with a big sound that made his songs explosive. With this current tour, he shares the stage with His Acoustic Group, which focuses more on bluegrass and pared-down country sounds. It’s only Lovett and four other musicians, together creating a simpler and more intimate show. Lovett is riding the two-lane blacktop with fiddler Luke Bulla, stand-up bassist Viktor Krauss, Dobro master Josh Swift, and Jeff White playing both mandolin and guitar. All sing beautifully, and their harmonies rocked. The current lineup is a dream group for old-time bluegrass and country, as each member comes from their own lineage in these genres. Lovett’s introduction of the band consisted of about 10 minutes of banter, stories, quips, and intimate details about haircuts and Grammys.
The two-and-a-half-hour set amid the gorgeous art deco interior of the Uptown was chock-filled with Lovett’s originals, songs that often utilize humor, wit, and intelligence along with the pure country sound of a man raised among the pastures and farmland of Texas. Lovett is not one of those singer-songwriters whose songs convey burden — he isn’t much for confessing or wallowing; he states things as they are in a way that is both self-deprecating and true.
His band opened the night with an instrumental bluegrass ditty, and then Lovett walked onto the stage amid huge cheers and applause and launches into the lovelorn “Once Is Enough,” his voice, an interesting mix of nasal and smooth, hits me with an intense familiarity that comforts me in this weird way. He played many of my favorite songs including the humorous “Pants Is Overrated,” “Give Back My Heart,” “Cowboy Man,” and “I’ve Been To Memphis.” Fiddler Bulla, also an accomplished songwriter, shared an intimate solo moment with “The Temperance Reel” while Lovett and the band sat quietly and watched in awe.
An audience member requested “Texas Trilogy,” so Lovett took a set list detour and played Steven Fromholz’s epic song of life in rural Texas. Ending the night, Lovett busted out his most beloved song, “If I Had A Boat” then came back and encored with “She’s No Lady” and “That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas)”. The crowd had no problem giving this quirky Texan a standing ovation at the end of his set.
Lovett is affable and interactive onstage, at one point stating, “You all are so lovely, it’s almost like I am playing in your living room. But don’t invite musicians into your living room because they will never leave.” Lovett has the demeanor of a shy man who knows he’s a badass, but it seems that he is still is shocked that people love his music. It creates a feeling of authenticity within his live shows that is refreshing and real. He doesn’t need to rely on flashy gimmicks, as his music is the one and only reason we come to witness his shows.