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Review: Lyle Lovett at Bass Hall

Posted 11:19pm on Monday, Sep. 09, 2013

Lyle Lovett and his Acoustic Group is open to everything and to nothing.

Monday night — a “school night,” as Lovett so drolly put it — at a comfortably full Bass Hall, Lovett showcased precisely how he has kept his career interesting and artistically satisfying for nearly three decades.

Lovett, and by extension, the very skilled players in his nine-piece Acoustic Group, are open to everything in the way top jazz men are, those who can improvise on a dime. (Much of Monday’s two hour-plus show, in fact, had a distinctly jazzy tinge, doubtless helped by University of North Texas professor Brad Leali, whose tenor sax work was exquisite.)

Musically, Lovett and the Acoustic Group are blank slates upon which whatever mood or feeling can be projected.

On the other hand, Lovett and his talented collaborators (his attitude towards them is far more collegial than merely describing them as “bandmates”) are sealed off, in a manner of speaking, having played some numbers so many times they could do them in their sleep.

They’re capable of knocking out, as fiddler Luke Bulla did, a tune he’s been playing since childhood ( The Temperance Reel). The muscle memory takes over, and the audience is left dazed by the rote beauty of it all.

If that sounds like a backhanded compliment, that is not the intent.

Rather, it’s amazing to watch a group of men — some of whom have been making music for decades, some only a short time — cohere in such lockstep fashion, while also retaining individual flair.

Russ Kunkel’s commanding backbeat anchors Keith Sewell’s feathery mandolin and guitar work, just as backing vocalist Arnold McCuller’s multi-octave voice lays beautifully alongside John Hagen’s cello.

They do this because they have always done it, but the possibility of discovering something new keeps the music alive night after night.

Whether it’s a Lovett classic like Cute As a Bug or My Baby Don’t Tolerate or newer material like Isn’t That So, the band performs it as if for the first time — or the hundredth, alert to new wrinkles even as they navigate familiar curves.

From first note to last, Lyle Lovett and his Acoustic Group is open to everything and to nothing — and it’s an experience like few others in modern music.

Preston Jones, 817-390-7713 Twitter: @prestonjones

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