Sunday, August 9, 2015

Lyle Lovett & His Large Band at Damrosch Park

Lyle Lovett was raised on his family's horse ranch in Klein, Texas, a small Houston suburb named after his grandfather. While in college majoring in both German and journalism, Lovett started writing his own music and performing in coffee houses. After recording his self-titled debut country music album in 1986, he began experimenting further in jazz, swing, blues, gospel, folk and pop within the country framework. He frequented landed roles on television and in movies, and is perhaps best known for eloping with Julia Roberts in 1993 after they met on a movie set; they divorced two years later. Lovett has recorded 11 albums, the most recent, Release Me, in 2012; he has won four Grammy Awards.

Tonight's free performance at Damrosch Park as part of Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors began with Lovett's band on stage and his back-up singer, Francine Reed, starting the opening song strolling slowly through the audience. Lovett's set opened and closed with accompaniment from His Large Band, a 15-piece ensemble that helped Lovett deliver swing, jazz and blues songs. The middle half of the two and a half hour set featured a reduced line-up (usually no horns, less percussion and no Reed) playing folk, country, bluegrass and gospel. That Lovett was able to lead all these genres convincingly was a masterful feat in itself. Lovett's singing highlighted an aching, yearning quality that was ripe for his blues and country songs of love and heartbreak; other lyrics revealed Lovett's wry wit. He was a generous bandleader, turning many of his songs into multi-level jams where every musician's talents were elevated. Beyond the sincerity and charm of his musical performance, Lovett's pleasing demeanor was casual, relaxed and chatty, inviting his audience into a cozy ambiance. The result was a modern and eclectic performance spanning the various sub-genres of Americana, executed with smarts, class and expert technique.

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