7/30/16 – Lyle Lovett and His Large Band with Emmylou Harris

A review of last night's performance by Lyle Lovett and Emmylou Harris.

7/30/16 – Lyle Lovett and His Large Band with Emmylou Harris

Lyle Lovett and his Large Band made a stop in Canandaigua at CMAC July 30th at 7pm. Opening up for him was fellow country legend and 13-time Grammy winner Emmylou Harris. The show was not as full as one might expect, but nonetheless both artists provided charming and authentic performances, spanning the emotional spectrum.

Joined by fellow singer-songwriters Pam Rose on guitar and Mary Ann Kennedy on bluegrass-style percussion kit and mandolin, and Chris Donohue on electric bass guitar and electric upright, Harris (who played acoustic guitar herself) delivered her standard fare in an hour-long set; sad, wistful, and thoughtful songs that explore themes of loneliness, sorrow, and love.

Harris has won all those Grammys for a reason. Her music has a definitive and distinctive feeling, that lonesome melancholy. Vocally, she can pull it off without being too schmaltzy or overdramatic, and even at 69 years young she has the chops to continue to be effective. Authenticity is what old country is about, and she still is.

Her band was excellent; much like Emmylou herself, they played country, without falling into any of the musical clichés of the genre. Donohue’s bass lines were very melodic, and he had solid arco ability to boot. Kennedy and Rose were excellent playing in a supportive manner behind Harris, and they blended well when they harmonized with Harris, making a rich sound with that Southern vibrato.

A master performer, Harris recognizes the need to appeal to her whole audience. In addition to much of her own material and favorite tunes by other country writers, she played a pair of classic Paul Simon and Neil Young tunes. A lot of the audience was singing along with those, making for one of the highlights of the show. She received a standing ovation, and once the crowd quieted down, Harris, Kennedy, and Rose stepped in front of the monitors on stage and sang unamplified. The words didn’t come through to the back of CMAC, but the effect rang loud and clear.

Lyle Lovett, a country cat to the core, accompanied by his “Large Band” — which first officially formed on the 1989 album “Lyle Lovett and His Large Band” — and Rochester’s own Jason Wright and the Master’s Touch gospel choir, gave a superb, well-constructed, and fun show that made two and a half hour show fly by.

To start off, the audio was fabulous, with perfectly balanced vocals and instrumentals, with masterful lighting that highlighted and “low-lighted” in the perfect moments. The band consisted of drums, upright bass, piano, slide guitar, electric guitar, fiddle, cello, alto and tenor sax, trumpet, and trombone, with Lovett singing and playing acoustic guitar. A few of the band members provided additional backup vocals, and gospel and blue vocal powerhouse and long time collaborator Francine Reed gave one extra voice.

Lovett and his Large Band covered a wide range of material from gospel, blues, jazz, country, and bluegrass. Many of the musicians on stage with Lovett had been playing together for thirty years, and the chemistry was evident. Beyond making great music together, Lovett mentioned that many of them have solo careers as well, and gave them each a moment in the literal and figurative spotlight. Throughout the show, they started off with a full band, and stripped it down to a solo number with fiddle player and singer Luke Bulla performing a solo tune, and it built back up.

Lovett and his laid back Southern charm worn the audience over. Down to earth and completely authentic, Lovett sings with such a unique drawl, a nasally croon with a little grit, and frequently replaces his “s” sounds with a “z.” The Southern spell extended to his ability as a showman; he doesn’t move around a lot, if at all when he sings and plays, but his cool carries through. (It should be noted that Lovett is a very competent guitarist; he didn’t shred crazy solos, but he picked and strummed along with the jazzier chords effortlessly.)

He also took the time to introduce all of his band members, particularly those whom has played with for three decades, exchanging banter and stories. He highlighted this vibe by singing a duet with his cellist and backup vocalist John Hagen, Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” and giving the stage to Reed for a romping and electric blues chart, “Wild Woman Blues,” which Reed said an all-woman New York City band premiered in 1924. Lovett’s banter was thoughtful, personal, and he wasn’t afraid to crack a joke or two. Even Emmylou Harris joined him for a couple tunes, after Lovett recounted a cute story about his producer Tony Brown who called in Harris to sing along for an early recording of Lovett’s; Lovett said “I didn’t know you could call Emmylou Harris.”

In addition to covering multiple genres, Lovett also dedicated a number of songs to Guy Clark. Clark was a revered country singer-songwriter who passed away in May. Lovett and Clark had a friendship, and Clark gave Lovett permission to record “Step Inside This House,” the first tune that Clark ever wrote. A gorgeous and sentimental tune about a man who is telling the stories of his small treasures in his home, Lovett performed the song for the crowd at CMAC. He played other Clark tunes, and Bulla’s solo tune was actually a fiddle tune that he and Clark created lyrics for.

Lovett and His Large Band put on a great show, and if there were any non-country fans at CMAC, I’m sure he converted them. A standing ovation sent the band off to their next stop.


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