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Lovett remains near perfect

Tennessee Theater, Knoxville, Tenn., October 7, 2019

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

Lyle Lovett is a very funny man. He peppers his performances with an array of anecdotes and observations, delivering them with an unassuming attitude and a decidedly low key commentary. "One person in a relationship shouldn't have more fun than the other, or at least appear to have more fun than the other," he noted at one point. "When I see that at my concerts, I instantly know whose idea it was to come to the show."

Then again, it's almost certain that those folks who attended Lovett's concerts haven't been coerced into coming to another. Whether performing with his Big Band, trading songs with a perfect foil like John Hiatt or Robert Earl Keen, or, as was the case here, sharing the helm of his five-piece Acoustic Band, Lovett remains a near perfect performer. Yes, he has a seriously understated sense of humor, but he also comes across as warm, personable and extremely gracious.

Lovett is indeed an ideal entertainer, one who can charm an audience with that dry wit and wisdom, while also evoking a shared sense of sentiment through his timeless tales. "Riding in cars isn't like it used to be," he observed. "Nowadays the kids all face backwards, at least until they turn 30." Anyone used to chauffeuring their family will recognize the irony in that.

Of course, Lovett doesn't make his living doing stand-up - although it might make a good fallback if his ability to mine his muse ever runs dry. With a terrific back-up band in tow, one made up of seasoned veterans of his previous ensembles - Luke Bulla on vocals, fiddle and mandolin; Keith Sewell multi-tasking on vocals, guitar, mandolin and occasional violin; John Hagen on cello and stand-up bassist Viktor Krauss - the audience was treated to an exceptional evening boasting approximately two dozen songs, a mix of tender ballads offering reverence and reflection ("Twelfth of June," "If I Had a Boat"), wry novelty and nuance ("She's No Lady," "Pants Is Overrated") and even the occasional hymn ("I'll Fly Away").

Posturing and pretense is eschewed entirely; when Lovett, Sewell and Bulla crowd around a single microphone, offering heartland harmonies like old time traveling minstrels, barriers are broken ,and show biz affectations are immediately dispelled. A true Texas charmer given his down home demeanor, Lovett bows to tradition through an unassuming style.

Indeed, humility is engrained in his delivery, whether sharing tender memories of his parents and his West Texas upbringing, expressing his admiration for the Tennessee Theater's elegant environs or offering ample opportunity for his bandmates to sing, share a solo or even offer up songs of their own. Bulla's "Temperance Reel" and Sewell's "Sweet Magnolia" were showstoppers, each in their own right, while Hagen's rowdy and rhythmic cello solo allowed his deadpan persona to give way to more frenzied finesse. Although he performs with these musicians ongoing basis, Lovett himself still appears duly impressed, offering kudos along with the good-natured patter he exchanges while sharing the stage.

Lovett said after the show an upcoming album is planned for next year. That can't come soon enough, although it's also clear that at the moment, the repertoire he provides is of ample proportions. To borrow the title of one of his better known songs, his fans don't tolerate anything less. Happily though, they need not worry about the other options.

Lee Zimmerman is a freelance writer and author based in Maryville, Tenn. He also expounds on music on his web site, Stories Beyond the Music - Americana Music Reviews, Interviews & Articles. His book, Americana Music - Voices, Visionaries and Pioneers of an Honest Sound - is available from Texas A&M University Publishing.