Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Review: Lyle Lovett makes room for stellar band of musicians at Bass Hall show
Two dancers from Texas Ballet Theater joined the band onstage for two numbers.
FORT WORTH It’s almost an afterthought, and it shouldn’t be. Lyle Lovett always surrounds himself with such stellar musicians that one might dismiss it as a given. There he was again before a sold-out audience Tuesday night at Bass Hall with an acoustic group of six men who could have put on their own show without the star attraction. Tall Texan Lovett wouldn’t have allowed that, but you get the picture.
On the drums was Russ Kunkel, one of the most revered and prolific musicians of the last 30 years and a man who has worked with luminaries such as Bob Dylan, Carole King, Jackson Browne, and Linda Ronstadt. Keith Sewell -- raised in Duncanville don’t you know -- picked the acoustic guitar and mandolin with gentle perfection. He’s toured with Ricky Skaggs and the Dixie Chicks. Fiddle player Luke Bulla is another Skaggs protege, and he’s also been a part of Lovett’s Large Band. Upright bassist Viktor Krauss didn’t say anything all night; he just strummed his instrument with beat-savvy precision. John Hagen, from Austin, brought sophistication to the cello. He’s been a Lovett regular since 1981. Finally, there’s vocalist Arnold McCuller, whose smooth combination of R&B, blues and jazz blended beautifully with Lovett’s pipes.
Lovett was the usual gracious band leader, giving his players plenty of solo time during songs and then some. McCuller, Bulla, and Sewell each performed one original tune. Lovett exited the stage during McCuller’s solo turn, leaving him with the lead microphone. For Bulla and Sewell, Lovett was a background player. That man is the rare star that seemingly has no ego.
What he does have is his trademark stream-of-consciousness sense of humor, which manifested itself in witty if longwinded stories. Plus, of course, Lovett has an arsenal of great songs. He treated us to many from his latest album, Release Me, which hit stores in February. “Release Me” was timeless; “White Boy Lost In the Blues” was organically soulful; his cover of Jesse Winchester’s “Isn’t That So” was crisply rhythmic; and “Keep It Clean” was whimsical in its saloon-styled brand of country-folk.
A few of his cherished staples, including “If I Had a Boat,” “God Will,” “Give Back My Heart,” and “Cute As a Bug,” benefited from the joyous noise coming from that band. He dipped into his 1986 self-titled debut for the melancholy stunner “The Waltzing Fool.” That song featured a special dance performance by Lucas Priolo and Carolyn Judson of the Texas Ballet Theater. The pair gracefully moved on an elevated platform behind Lovett and his band. They returned later during “She’s No Lady.” Ben Stevenson, the artistic director of the Texas Ballet Theater and a huge fan of Lovett’s music, personally choreographed the two dance numbers.
Lovett called Priolo and Judson “two of the greatest dancers in the entire world.” Their performance was indeed sheer elegance. That means it fit right in with Lovett. For all his quirky sense of humor and sometimes offbeat songs about boats, Pontiacs, fat babies, penguins, and skinny legs, Lyle Lovett is class personified. This is a man who always wears a suit and tie onstage, who treats his audience like old friends and who showcases excellent musicians as fellow collaborators, not just hired guns.
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