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Photos: Shawn Colvin & Lyle Lovett at Ohio University

Grant Walters Grant Walters Photos: Shawn Colvin & Lyle Lovett at Ohio UniversityPhotos by Grant Walters.
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Two of the country's essential singer-songwriters brought their harmony and humor to OU's Memorial Auditorium last Wednesday night

The persistent rain of the day had mostly stopped as I drove down to Athens for Shawn Colvin and Lyle Lovett’s show in Athens last week, pulling into town just as the bulk of the Wednesday evening crowd was making their way through the front doors of Templeton-Blackburn Memorial Auditorium in the heart of OU’s incredibly pretty campus. This stop on their Together on Stage tour was not the pair’s first appearance at the venue, and given the effusive compliments Lovett paid to the University’s staff during a pause in the program, it’s certain to not be their last.

The stage setup was fittingly simple: just two chairs, two mics, and a side table topped with water bottles (and Lovett’s paper coffee cups), flanked by a trio of acoustic guitars belonging to each of the singer-songwriters. If it weren’t for the spotlights, you could swear you were in either Lovett’s or Colvin’s living room during an evening jam session, which was probably intentional.

Shortly after eight o’clock, the long-time friends entered and took their places in front of the warmly engaged audience. After a few preliminary lines of badinage had been exchanged, Lovett leaned into a slow-burning version of Chuck Berry’s “Brown Eyed Handsome Man.” Colvin responded with an undulating read of “Steady On,” her 1989 debut single and title track of her first studio album.

When the legends weren’t alternating between standards from each of their fantastic catalogs, Lovett’s sharp, folksy wit was the highlight of the evening, which was often met with a sustained grin from Colvin as she plotted her own hilarious rejoinder. Their chemistry was perpetually evident, especially as they watched one another lovingly as they each performed stunningly pretty renditions of songs like Lovett’s “Good-Bye To Carolina” and “Don’t Cry A Tear,” and Colvin’s “Wichita Skyline” and “Summer Dress.”

But when the two joined forces on Lovett’s joyous “Fiona,” and Rowland “Roly” Salley’s gorgeous, oft-covered “Killing The Blues” (which was also included on Colvin’s 1994 album, Cover Girl), the show reached a magnificent pinnacle. They harmonized again on the show’s two closing numbers: Lovett’s fantastical “If I Had A Boat,” and Colvin’s folk anthem “Diamond In The Rough.” After a standing ovation, they re-appeared with an encore of Colvin’s solo “Shotgun Down The Avalanche” and ended the night with a soulful duet on Lovett’s gospel-hued “Church.”

Lovett’s sandpapered tenor and Colvin’s semisweet alto are a lovely contrast, and they gleefully traded tunes for over two hours. If you love a singer and their six-string as much as I do, it was a phenomenal evening.

Last month, Colvin released The Starlighter, a new album of songs adapted from Lullabies and Night Songs, a children’s music book published in 1965 that featured arrangements from 20th century American composer Alec Wilder’s arrangements, and artwork from Where the Wild Things Are author and illustrator Maurice Sendak. A twentieth anniversary reissue of her acclaimed 1996 album, A Few Small Repairs, was made available last fall. She is currently writing songs for an as-of-yet unnamed studio album.

Lovett’s last commercial album, Release Me, dropped in 2012, but he actively tours with his proprietary ensemble, His Large Band, with other featured musicians, and as a solo artist. An established actor, he recently appeared as Ned Gawler on the acclaimed CBS comedy TV series, Life In Pieces.

Together On Stage set list: “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” (Lovett) / “Steady On” (Colvin) / “Good-Bye To Carolina” (Lovett) / “Wichita Skyline” (Colvin) / “I’ve Been To Memphis” (Lovett) / “Another Long One” (Colvin) / “Don’t Cry A Tear” (Lovett) / “he Truth About Jimmy” (Colvin & Lovett) / “Fiona” (Lovett & Colvin) / “Killing The Blues” (Lovett & Colvin) / “South Texas Girl” (Lovett) / “Summer Dress” (Colvin) / “Once Is Enough” (Lovett) / “Polaroids” (Colvin) / “North Dakota” (Lovett) / “Fat City” (Colvin) / “If I Had A Boat” (Lovett & Colvin) / “Diamond In The Rough” (Colvin) Encore: “Shotgun Down The Avalanche” (Colvin) / “Church” (Lovett & Colvin)

All photos by Grant Walters.

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