Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Gotta Lovett

By Michael Henningsen

JULY 5, 1999:  In 1989, country music visionary Lyle Lovett released Lyle Lovett and His Large Band, which went gold and secured him a Grammy Award for "Best Male Vocalist." That record forever identified Lovett as the leader of an 18-piece country orchestra, and it seems that no matter what else he releases -- six other brilliant records recorded without the infamous Large Band -- he's always thought of in that context.

For his seventh record, Live in Texas, Lovett is back in ultra-swinging style with many of the players who helped make his 1989 record a smashing success and a now uncontested classic. Alongside Large Band favorites vocalist Francine Reed and pianist Matt Rollings are a handful of players new to the fold, like vocalists Sweet Pea Atkinson and Sir Harry Bowens. The material is culled mostly from the original Large Band record and Pontiac, as well as a few tunes each from most of his other records. Essentially, Live in Texas is a greatest hits collection recorded in front of a teeming Texas audience -- and it's more than enough to satisfy even the most minor Lovett fan. The only thing better, in fact, is Lovett & Co. up close and personal.

There is perhaps no more charismatic stage persona working today. Lovett's cheerful antics and wry smile recall the sheer natural grace and class of Dizzy Gillespie on the bandstand. Lovett's brilliance as a lyricist is evenly matched by his band's playful yet expert execution of what are, at times, epic arrangements of gingerly complex melodies. Lovett's is the kind of timeless music that can be listened to over and over again without losing a hint of its original spark -- that's his genius. One would be hard-pressed to tire of a live repertoire that includes "She's No Lady," "Here I Am," "That's Right, You're Not from Texas" and, of course, "If I Had a Boat."

Lovett represents the eclectic tradition of Western swing and as a songwriter echoes such country music innovators as Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark. There's not a broader imagination or more expansive palette in country music.

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