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American Masters 

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Two lanky 50-something guys walk into a bar. A salad bar. Because, as the more extroverted of the two says, “I used to drink a lot in those days, you see / Yeah, that’s the way the wind blows / These days the only bar I ever see / Has got lettuce and tomatoes.”

That’s singer-songwriter-barnstorming-performer John Hiatt, who has the unique distinction of having put music and words into the mouths of vocalists ranging from Iggy Pop to Willie Nelson to Paula Abdul.

His quietly charismatic companion wears an enigmatic cat-who-swallowed–the-canary smile on his distinctively chiseled face, a visage recognizable from Robert Altman movies and paparazzi photos featuring his ex-wife Julia Roberts. Of this short-lived marriage, he notes, “The preacher asked her / And she said ‘I do’ / The preacher asked me / And she said ‘Yes he does too’ / And the preacher said ‘I pronounce you 99 to life / Son she’s no lady she’s your wife.’”

That’s Lyle Lovett, four-time-Grammy-winning singer-songwriter-rancher-actor. Lovett has the unique distinction of being the only musician on the Lost Highway label to have had his leg crushed by a bull. (Lovett was trying to help his uncle, on the family farm in Texas; he made a full recovery.)

These interesting gentlemen, two of our most acclaimed songsmiths, are at the top of their game, having released some of their best material in the last few years. They are bringing all of the above and more to UPAC in Kingston for a special stripped-down acoustic duo performance on February 17.

Valentine’s Day will have just passed, so if women are present in the aforementioned salad bar, you may well hear the pithy Lovett say, “I can’t believe what I see / How could you be alone? / Come sit down right beside me / And make yourself at home.”

Hiatt isn’t quite so subtle: “I’m talking to a tight red sweater / I’m feelin’ like Eddie Vedder / Only twice as cool when she starts winkin’ / I’m just so easily led when the little head does the thinkin.”

Over the course of 35 years, Hiatt has released 19 albums. Lovett has issued 12 since 1986. They’ve been on various labels, and folks have run themselves ragged trying to categorize the music; Hiatt has good-naturedly shared LP, cassette, CD, and DVD racks with folkies, rockers, and bluesmen. Laid-back Lovett has made no qualms about hobnobbing with Western swing, jazz, soul, and Nashvegas. Each has left in his wake devoted listeners who categorize them not by any specific style, but by “L” and “H.”

Suffice to say: They know what they’re doing. And if you know what you’re doing, you should go hang out with them at UPAC.

John Hiatt and Lyle Lovett will perform on Sunday, February 17, at 7pm at UPAC in Kingston. (845) 473-2072; www.bardavon.org.

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