Sign up for our newsletters    

Baltimore City Paper home page.

Natural Forces: Lyle Lovett and his Large Band at Hot August Blues, Aug. 21

August 23, 2010

While it is true that almost all American music has roots in the blues, it doesn’t follow that every American musician is a blues act. So it was more than a little strange that the headliner for this year’s Hot August Blues festival at Oregon Ridge Park was Lyle Lovett and his Large Band, a honky-tonk poet and a Western swing ensemble. It got stranger still when the headlining set began with a rock’n’funk hit, Was (Not Was)’s “Walk the Dinosaur,” sung by the two original lead singers: Sweet Pea Atkinson and Sir Harry Bowens, followed by a snappy Texas swing instrumental that recalled vintage Bob Wills.

When Lovett finally took the stage to join his 14-member Large Band, it was to the strains of overdriven rock guitar solos played by Mitch Watkins and Ray Herndon. That set up “It’s Rock and Roll,” a number from Lovett’s latest album, last year’s Natural Forces. With its sardonic, half-spoken verses and anthemic choruses, it was terrific satire but it wasn’t the blues. That was followed by a high-speed hillbilly romp, “Farmer Brown/Chicken Reel,” lit up by solos from fiddler Luke Bulla and mandolinist Keith Sewell, bluegrass veterans both.

At the end of the song, however, the four backing vocalists—Atkinson, Bowens, Arnold McCuller, and Willie Greene Jr.—started clucking and crowing in delirious four-part gospel harmony as if they were the Five Blind Boys of Alabama reincarnated as poultry. That provided the show’s unlikely door into the blues, and a few songs later, Lovett led the four singers through a stark version of “I Will Rise Up,” a slow lament that the leader had adapted from the old Texas prison blues song, “Ain’t No More Cane.” Lovett’s voice was as dry and sturdy as a West Texas ranch, but his four harmonizers fluttered around him like mourning doves, thus suggesting both a prisoner’s mean circumstances in the present and high hopes for the future.

Like Willie Nelson and Ray Charles, Lovett is one of the rare performers who can honestly say he transcends genres. He whittled down his large ensemble to a bluegrass quartet (himself, Bulla, Sewell, and bassist Leland Sklar) for three tunes (“Pantry,” “I’ll Come Knocking,” and “Up in Indiana”). On the sharp, brisk arrangements of “Cowboy Man,” “My Baby Don’t Tolerate,” and “That’s Right (You’re Not from Texas),” the full complement of musicians split the difference between Western Swing and big-band jazz.

On the slower, understated arrangements of “Natural Forces,” “If I Had a Boat,” and “Whooping Crane,” Lovett combined the dignity and command of his role models. Dressed simply in a white shirt and black slacks, his brown curls piled atop his slanting face, he sang of being caught between gravity and wishes with an anguished yearning. Maybe that’s the blues and maybe it’s not, but it sure was effective as the sun went down on the green hills of Cockeysville Saturday night.

Tags: ,

  • Mbyrne

    that shit was so awful,if u liked this u are a tool, i like the blues, country, and all that jazz but lyle was awful and for a full band what a waste, complete garbage

  • JillPole

    I was there. The audience was horrible, drunk, or high, not listening, talking through most of the performance. Sad commentary on how American audiences behave. I left the country the next day. It was embarrassing.

  • door hangers

    I am impressed, I have to say. Really seldom do I come across a site that’s both informative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Your opinion is important; the matter is something that not a lot of people are speaking intelligently about. I am really happy that I stumbled across this in my search for something relating to it.

  • Door hangers

    Next, Finishes refer to the extra coat or accent that is added to the paper of
    a door hanger after printing. This adds certain qualities to the door hanger
    paper that may make it more shiny or more resistant to damage. You common
    options here are aqueous coating for a glossy shiny finish, or you can also
    have the Ultra Violet protection coating that protects the paper for harsh
    light and weather effects. Of course the cheapest way is to just print door
    hangers with no finishes, but this adds a professional edge to your door
    hangers, if you ever want to invest in it.

  • Texas Ranches For Sale

    Buying a piece land is actually like purchasing a piece of living history. The families which own these farms have had generations of babies born in the bedrooms and often die in the same bedrooms. They have had grandfathers, fathers, and sons, all work the farm side by side, and mothers and daughter pass on generations of family secrets. This is certainly worth more than the sale of the farm land in Texas to the developers of a Wal-Mart. 

  • Texas Ranches For Sale

    Our goal is to forge a long lasting relationship with our buyers and sellers.  We see activity picking up with buyers becoming more active in the market.  Now is a good time to view some of our properties, as land is one of the best investments for the long term.  Our firm represents both buyers and sellers throughout South Texas and the Hill Country. 

  • Texas Ranches For Sale

    Buying untouched property is not for the faint of heart or for impatient people. Most of us are probably planning for the future and dreaming about building a vacation or retirement home or maybe some just want a place to stretch out and have some fun hunting and riding dirt bikes. But, to keep your head out of the clouds and your feet on the ground when you fall in love with that pristine piece of real estate, don’t forget the following advice. First of all, don’t get emotional where you might be tempted to overpay. No matter what kind of upgrades you might make to the property, you can’t expect to get it back if you decide later to sell.

  • Texas Ranches For Sale

    Listing a ranch for sale with a real estate brokerage can be very intimidating when you’re not familiar with how the process works or what tendencies many brokers have to cut corners. Here are the top pitfalls that buyers fall into: