Lyle Lovett brings a kinder, gentler Texas to Montana's fans


For fans of country music-and I'm talking real country music here, not the treacly crap that seems so prevalent nowadays-Texas in the '70s represents a kind of Golden Age of the craft, much like New York in the '40s was for jazz and San Francisco in the '60s was for psychedelic rock.

The singer-songwriters out of Texas during that decade were a loose conglomeration of hard-living and hard-loving folks, and their songs are filled with the kind of grace culled directly from the poetry of life. Many of these songwriters remain obscure, outside of the genre's hard-core fans, to this day.

Western Montanans will have the rare opportunity next week to attend a Texas songwriter revival of sorts, when Lyle Lovett comes to town in support of Step Inside This House, his 1998 release paying homage to the artists who reigned when Lovett was cutting his teeth in the business outside Houston in the mid-'70s. The album contains 21 songs covering the work of 11 different songwriters, with extra emphasis on the songs of Walter Hyatt, Steven Fromholz and the late, great Townes Van Zandt.

Lyle Lovett, hair and all, serenades you at University Theatre this Wednesday.

Lovett himself, of course, has become a country songwriting and performing icon in his own right, having garnered Grammy awards for his 1989 release Lyle Lovett And His Large Band and for 1997's Road To Ensenada. Though it would be hard to pigeonhole Lovett as a country singer-his Large Band recording, for instance, is an eclectic collection of big-band blues shuffles-Step Inside This House leaves no doubt as to where Lovett's roots are planted.

Although Lovett gives these songs a relatively straight reading-"To presume that you can do the song better than the guy who wrote it is not the place to start," he says-flashes of his legendary sardonic wit bubble up every now and again. Take his cover of Fromholz's "Bears," for example, a song that alludes to the mythical nature of the rare and powerful beast, a song wherein Lovett repeats this last verse twice: "So meet a bear and take him out to lunch with you/And even though your friends may stop and stare/Just remember that's a bear there in the bunch with you/And they just don't come no better than a bear." (Conrad Burns, please take note).

And be prepared to have your guts tickled at this show, for Lovett, along with being a master at songwriting and lyrical phrasing, is also one hell of an entertainer between songs. As and added bonus, Alison Krauss, who snags backup on several of the new album's songs, has been making a number of surprise appearances on the tour (she has a brother and a husband in Lovett's backing band).

Look, there's no question that the price is steep for a show in these parts. But if you've got the scratch, check Lovett out; it'll be the most entertaining musical history lesson you've ever heard.

Lyle Lovett plays University Theatre, Wednesday, March 10 at 8 p.m. Tickets are a whopping $34 through TIC-IT-EZ.

There's no stopping Missoula's hip-hop clique


In it's 20-year history, hip-hop has gone from being the urban street report to being the strip-cruising soundtrack. Today, it's just as likely to be heard in Tommy Suburbia's Honda as booming out of cosmopolitan Jeeps.

So it's official-hip-hop is now America's favorite music. And, after having migrated from its birthplace in New York City to the West Coast and then the Dirty South, rap now stands poised to emanate from quieter sectors of the nation, like the Midwest and even our very own Northwest.

At least that's what Jon Simmons of Nu Gruv Productions has in mind. He wants to see our region become the next bastion of hip-hop, and he's started by organizing a huge live show this weekend, featuring former Missoulians 911 and a bevy of MCs and DJs hailing from places like Spokane, Helena and Great Falls.

"I'm trying to bring up the whole Northwest," Simmons says. "And it's not going to be one artist that blows it up, but a clique."

Mr. Que, a member of 911, says, "I think there's a lot of the same sounds around the Northwest, but we're trying to come with something a little different."

Fellow member Scott "Sandman" Spraggins describes 911's sound as "music with a conscience that will make you want to bob your head."

Simmons explains that, currently, even if a hip-hop act is popular in Seattle, where 911 stays these days, nobody outside the city limits has heard of them. "There's no rotation in the Northwest," as he puts it.

Simmons sees Missoula and other area cities as being unmined markets for hip-hop, a point he recently pitched to rap star Ice-T when he spoke in Bozeman.

"I said there's mad money to be made up here, and told him it was an underserved market," he says. "He gave me his phone number in front of 400 people."

Simmons adds that local interest is high, and indeed, the number of DJs in town has skyrocketed in the past few years. But there are still a limited number of places where they can showcase their skills.

If the DJ and MC battle at Jay's Upstairs on January 29, which sold out an hour before it started, is any indication, there are plenty of people in Missoula hungry for hip-hop. And if you dug what you saw there, Simmons says he recruited the winning MC and other standouts, including Missoula's Allyz, for his show on Saturday. He envisions an Apollo Theater-style talent show to also be a part of the night's events. But, he warns, be sure you're at least partly nice before jumping on stage.

"If someone doesn't have talent, they need to go home and practice," he says. "If you can't rhyme Harry and Mary, we're going to weed you out."

Jon Simmons plans on plenty more events featuring homegrown, hip-hop talent. "We're representing places like Portland, Seattle, Spokane, Missoula and Great Falls. I figure by the end of summer, people will know us."

The Northwest Hip-Hop/Rap Collaboration happens Saturday, March 6 in the University Center Commons. 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. $9 at the door; you must be at least 18.

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