Upcoming Concert Reviews of Lyle Lovett, Willowz and More...

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The Willowz



Lyle Lovett and His Large Band

Friday · Taft Theatre

When you examine Lyle Lovett's life and accomplishments in a compressed space, he seems like one of the oddball characters that he's created in his songs since his quietly astonishing self-titled debut album in 1986. During his college years at Texas A&M, Lovett wrote songs and played on his front porch with fellow student Robert Earl Keen and interviewed rising Folk star Nanci Griffith for the school paper. After a graduate school jaunt in Europe, Lovett's music career took flight when Griffith covered his "If I Were the Woman You Wanted" on her acclaimed Once in a Very Blue Moon in 1984 (she also invited Lovett to sing on the album). That same year, Texas songwriting legend Guy Clark sent Lovett's demo to MCA honcho Tony Brown who signed Lovett almost on the spot. Although Lovett was marketed as a Country act and charted a number of Country hits, it was clear from his first albums that he would not be restrained by a narrow genre tag, incorporating Western Swing, Gospel, Jazz and Folk into his increasingly fluid repertoire. When strict Country listeners ignored Lovett, Pop audiences embraced him wholeheartedly and his audience expanded exponentially in the '90s with his next albums (1994's I Love Everybody, 1996's The Road to Ensenada, 1998's Step Inside This House). Ironically, these albums contained more classic Country than much of his earlier work. In the same period, he began a TV/film acting career, married and divorced Julia Roberts and finally produced his first live album, Live in Texas, in 1999. In 2000, Lovett created the soundtrack for Richard Gere's Dr. T and the Women and in 2002, his career was momentarily derailed when he was trampled by a bull at his uncle's Texas ranch and suffered a broken leg; after two months, he was back onstage performing in his cast. In 2003, Lovett released one of the best albums in his catalog, My Baby Don't Tolerate, his debut for his new label, Lost Highway.

Lovett has somehow always been a local favorite; he's performed at Bogart's, the Zoo and the Taft, drawing well at every venue and, since Pontiac in 1988, he's employed Cincinnati photographer Michael Wilson to provide the uniquely evocative imagery for his album art. It only makes sense that Lyle Lovett would recognize one-of-a-kind talent to help accent his own. (Brian Baker)

The Knitters with Sohio

Saturday · Southgate House

Rarely has a side project attracted such lasting interest from so little output as The Knitters. Originally made up of vocalist/bassist John Doe, vocalist Exene Cervenka and drummer D.J. Bonebrake from X and guitarist Dave Alvin from The Blasters, The Knitters was an homage to the mutual Country influences lurking in X's frenetic Roots Punk and The Blasters' vibrant Rockabilly. The two L.A. bands converged in The Knitters in the mid '80s with the idea of covering the songs of their legendary forebearers, icons like the Carter family, the Delmore Brothers and Merle Haggard, and presenting those songs in their original acoustic format while retaining all of the inherent Rock power of X and The Blasters. Although The Knitters managed to release just one album's worth of their Punk-shot Country, 1985's Poor Little Critter on the Road — which also featured a handful of acoustically revamped X songs — the effects of bringing their Country roots to the surface would ripple through the members' subsequent band and solo work for the next two decades. As so often happens in music, influence begat influence, and The Knitters' sole recording became as foundational as the groups they were tributing, giving rise to the amazing 1999 Bloodshot Records tribute album, Poor Little Knitter on the Road, featuring the talents of Robbie Fulks, The Old 97s, Trailer Bride, The Sadies, Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown and even The Knitters themselves, expanded to a quintet with the addition of string bassist Jonny Ray Bartel. And now, 20 years after the release of their only album, The Knitters have returned to the studio to once again reinforce the connections between Rock energy and Country truth, resulting in the equally inspirational The Modern Sounds of The Knitters. With Modern Sounds, The Knitters continue the concept they began two decades ago as they present traditional faves ("Little Margaret," "Give Me Flowers While I'm Living"), reworked X songs ("Burning House of Love") and contemporary classics ("Born to Be Wild"). With an additional 20 years of experience and musical depth to draw on, The Knitters are even more formidable than they were in 1985. (BB)

The Willowz

Sunday · Northside Tavern

Before he could (legally) drink, Richie James Follin, lead singer for Anaheim-based indie rockers The Willowz, had the privilege to sniff success and accomplish more than most musicians four times his age. While just an erstwhile, ambitious 20-year-old, Follin and his band mates (Jessica Reynoza and Alex Nowicki; second guitarist/keyboardist Dan Bush joined a little later) found a fan in Michael Gondry, who was making a name for himself in the music biz directing visually stunning videos for Björk and The White Stripes. Gondry included the band on the soundtrack to his Hollywood breakthrough, the Oscar-nominated Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. He must've really liked what he heard from The Willowz; after the film, Gondry agreed to do a music video for them at no cost (not an everyday occurrence, to say the least). Add to that the inclusion of one of the band's songs on that veritable gold-mine of music promo called The O.C. , and you've got the makings of a wine-and-dine bidding war and promises of all the riches in the land for a band literally just stepping out of their garage. To their credit, The Willowz stepped back and realized they had their whole lives ahead of them and, anymore, major label deals for fresh-faced newbies are about as sure-fire as your weekly Powerball ticket purchases. Follin's bloodline might have had something to do with turning down the money-wavers. A strange mix of artistic sensibility, integrity and business understanding courses through Follin's family tree — his mother, Heidi, reportedly was Dee Dee Ramone's art dealer and now handles The Willowz business affairs and his step-father, Paul Kostabi, is the brother of famed painter Mark and played with White Zombie when they were genuinely scary and underground (Kostabi is also the band's co-producer). Follin and Co. made the decision to forgo the tempting big money advances and signed with notoriously anti-biz imprint, Sympathy for the Record Industry (actually, "signing" is too strong a word, as the label never offers contracts to acts, preferring handshake deals). Their new label re-issued their celebrated debut CD with new artwork and a few bonus tracks and not long after released the impressive, 20-track disc, Talk In Circles (if that title's not a statement about their major label dealings, turn to the album's third track, "Cons & Tricks" for a more direct commentary). The Willowz story is a bit like The Strokes, had that band told RCA to fuck off and put out their own debut album with the cover art they originally wanted. The Willowz' music, coincidentally, is similar to that Strokesian Post Punk (or at least it causes a thrill similar to hearing those first few Strokes songs for the first time). But there's a lot more joy and playful diversity at work on Talk In Circles, and there's little of the hipster coolness that permeates the Strokes work. The band mixes Garage Punk with '60s-inflected Pop/Rock to come up with something akin to The Stooges if they were raised on Bubblegum Pop and didn't do quite as many drugs. Given the band's beyond-their-years talent, The Willowz seem to be a sure bet to gain the widespread notoriety that those major-label hype machines claimed they would deliver. But, hopefully, by playing the game on their own field and with their own set of rules, time will age them just right and the "hype" will turn into a longer lasting career. They're off to a blazing start. (Mike Breen)