CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Usually, about half of the performers who play the Clay Center make some polite remark about hoping to be invited back, but not every singer really deserves the invite.Friday night, Lyle Lovett and his very fine Acoustic Band earned what ought to be a regular pass to the Charleston's premier venue.They played a fun, energetic show that was 90 percent great music and 10 percent good-hearted tomfoolery.Lovett and company entertained with an exhausting set that lasted more than two hours (the show got started a little late) with no breaks in between -- unless you count the time he took to occasionally tune his guitar, which usually served as opportunities for jokes or anecdotes.Lovett was charming, and he played songs from his most recent record, "Please Release Me," in addition to tunes from his first records in the 1980s, such as "Pontiac."He seemed game for anything, and the modest crowd that came out to see him was happy to go wherever Lovett wanted. As usual, Lovett was all over the musical map of Texas. He and his band played a little country swing, some bluegrass, a little blues and even a few things that brushed up against jazz.He played covers by Jessie Winchester, Ray Parks and Townes Van Zandt, but there was very little that sounded like what country sounds like these days.
The twang was there, but the aching dumbness of slick, generic pop country was absent. Nobody missed it.Throughout the evening, Lovett frequently showcased the members of his band, which is not an especially unusual concept normally. Bandleaders often dole out solos to this player or that player to give them a chance to shine. But Lovett went above and beyond.More than once, the Texan all but turned over the stage to guitarist and mandolin player Keith Sewell or fiddler Luke Bulla, giving them the chance to play their own songs and, honestly, their stuff was solid.Bulla's "Temperance Reel" had an old-style sound to it that reminded me of Ricky Skaggs, and Sewell played a song that was probably the closest thing to a mainstream country song all night -- and a good one at that.The funny thing is that Lovett's Acoustic Band is basically a stripped down version of Lovett's Large Band, reduced for convenience and affordability.But their show was so good, you can't help but wonder what the full-size outfit is like.Reach Bill Lynch at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5195.