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Thursday, Aug. 12, 2004 05:36 am

Lovett or leave it

art1299

Perhaps he is best known by the masses as half of the beauty-and-the-beast story that played weekly in the tabloids during his brief marriage to actress Julia Roberts. Fortunately, Texas-based Lyle Lovett is also justifiably recognized as the author of some of the finest songs penned in the last 20 years.

Flirting with traditional country on his debut, showcasing big-band swing on Lyle Lovett and His Large Band, or visiting gospel and Randy Newman territory on Joshua Judges Ruth, Lovett has always delivered strong melodies laced with a wicked sense of humor. His richly detailed narratives are at times reminiscent of the work of such Texas songwriting legends as Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt, artists he paid tribute to on his 1998 release Step Inside This House.

Lovett's latest CD, a strong collection of originals titled My Baby Don't Tolerate, adds the blues to his mix of musical styles. The title track and the ballad "In My Own Mind" were among the best songs of 2003. Lovett's self-deprecating stage patter and versatile touring band guarantee a great concert experience. So leave the Illinois State Fair behind you for a day and head for the shiny silver wicket by the Mississippi for one of the finest free shows of the season.

Lyle Lovett performs at 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 14, on the Mississippi riverfront, near the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. The show is part of a series of free concerts and other events being staged to commemorate the anniversaries of the Lewis and Clark expedition and the 1904 World's Fair. For more information, go to www.celebrate2004.org.

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