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Lyle Lovett: A musician without a label

WANT TO GO?

Lyle Lovett with His Acoustic Group

WHERE: Clay Center

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday

TICKETS: $35, $45, $55 and $65

INFO: 304-561-3570 or www.theclaycenter.org

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Somebody is bound to have noticed this, but four-time Grammy winning country singer and sometime actor Lyle Lovett is currently without a record contract.

Last year, Lovett finished up his decades-long contract with Curb/Universal records with the aptly titled record, "Release Me." The record came out in February 2012 and since then, the 55-year-old remains unsigned -- not that he seems to be in all that big of a hurry to work with another record label.

"Just because my record deal is over, I don't intend to change my job," said the Texan, who plays the Clay Center Friday.

He's still writing songs, still making music and still playing shows all over the country. It's just that his plans for recording are ambling toward vague.

This spring, he's out with his Acoustic Group, which may not entirely be an unplugged outfit. The band includes Russ Kunkel, Viktor Krauss, Keith Sewell and Luke Bulla, all members of his Large Band. (Sewell plays electric guitar in that group.)

Lovett cut "Release Me" with the Large Band in mind, but the singer said it wasn't really a problem to play songs from that record with the smaller unit.

"I've never sort of let the way we record paint me into a corner," he said. "We can play any of those songs. Last year, we heavily featured songs from that album, but this year, because I don't have a brand new album, it gives me the chance to play songs across my whole catalog."

So what is he planning on playing Friday night?

"The real answer is I haven't figured it out yet," he laughed. "But I always like it when people from the audience ask for songs. It gives us the change to do things on a given night we don't do anywhere else."

Lovett likes variety and considers it part of his Houston upbringing.

"I've always thought of Texas as independent in terms of overall attitude," he said. "The people from here don't seem to really like being painted in a corner. They like to do what they want, and that's bound to have some musical trickle down."

Lovett said growing up he was exposed to all kinds of music. The biggest rock bands blew through town and there was pop radio, of course, but the music he remembered best was the stuff played around the city in small clubs.

"There were these wonderful, intimate, acoustic venues where you could go hear great songwriters like Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt or go listen to Jerry Jeff Walker and Lightning Hopkins," Lovett said.

"There was also this great rhythm and blues scene, and all of these musicians playing all this different music, they associated. It was very much a community, and it really didn't matter what music it was."

This was the atmosphere Lovett grew up in.

His love of variety has flavored his own music and the music he chooses to play. Most of the songs on "Release Me" were songs he'd sung for years, but never recorded -- except for the title song.

"I used to hear that one live," he said. "My parents used to love to go to the local dance halls and dance to live bands when I was a little boy."

Also, he picked it up for the title, which he thought was a good thing to call his last record for the record label.

It was really the only song on the record that he had to sit down and learn. The rest came pretty easily.

Lovett expected he'd record again sometime, though it was too soon to say. He hoped to find something to do with his friend John Hiatt eventually.

"There's nothing firm," he said.

The only thing for sure is that he'll be taking the Large Band out with him in August. He said he was looking forward to that, though by no means discounting his smaller Acoustic Group.

The Large Band, of course, is large, which is great, but can be economically unfeasible.

"The Acoustic Group allows us to go out and play smaller venues, allows me to work more, and," he added with a laugh, "pay everybody, which works out better in the long run for everyone."

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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