He brings his large band and...yes, his large hair into the Ulster Performing Arts Center in Kingston on Sunday, November 15, at 7 p.m., touring behind his 14th record as a leader, Natural Forces. He's on solid ground, with six of the 12 tunes written by some of his heroes, including Townes Van Zandt, Eric Taylor and Vince Bell. It's sort of a mash-up album - a cross between his covers album, Step inside This House, and one of his previous two albums of originals.
Though Lovett exploded onto the country music scene in the 1980s with his records Lyle Lovett, Pontiac and Lyle Lovett and His Large Band, in the 1990s he gradually ditched his country sounds in favor of jazz, R & B and blues songs. Though country music radio ignored the new songs, he earned a strong fan base for recording music like no one else (even though he earned as much press as actress Julia Roberts' first husband as he did for his records).
The Large Band is a swinging Texas Big Band one minute, a sweaty turn-on-a-dime R & B unit the next, an uptown jazz orchestra the one after that and then a righteous, Sunday-go-to-meetin' gospel outfit. Subtract a few players for a minute and the Large Band becomes a small one, perfectly suited for subtly enhancing the most intimate and understated songs from Lovett's deep catalogue.
In his work two roads come together: the trail blazed by the great Texas storytellers, of whom Van Zandt and Guy Clark are the best-known, and the crooked highway navigated by sophisticated wiseasses such as Randy Newman and Tom Waits. Lovett's first gift was to combine these two potent strands of musical DNA into a new genome able to generate songs like "If I Had a Boat," "God Will," "If I Were the Man You Wanted," "Family Reserve" and "Her First Mistake." That would be plenty for any composer to base a career on; but Lovett was also capable of both flat-out humor ("That's Right, You're Not from Texas," "Here I Am," "Church") and heartbreakers that were poignant without ever descending into sentimentality ("She's Already Made up Her Mind," "Nobody Knows Me," "The Road To Ensenada"). What emerged was a picture of a smart and complicated man whose good humor and generosity of spirit were holding back a darker character. Out of such tensions many artists are born.
The breadth of Lovett's work also dictates the use of the term "Large," because in addition to the stylistic range of his music he has honed his skills as an actor, appearing in multiple films by the late, great director Robert Altman (The Player, Short Cuts, Prêt-a-Porter, Cookie's Fortune), as well as writing the film score for a fifth, Dr. T and the Women. He has several other films to his credit and another one recently released: Open Road.
Tickets are available at the UPAC box office at 601 Broadway in Kingston, (845) 339-6088; at the Bardavon box office at 35 Market Street in Poughkeepsie, (845) 473-2072; or through TicketMaster, (800) 745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com. Ticket prices are $85 for Golden Circle, $55 general admission and $50 for Bardavon members). For further information, please visit www.bardavon.org or www.upac.org.