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Anecdotal Evidence

There's a wonderful and telling moment in the movie Crazy Heart when Jeff Bridges, playing fading country singer Bad Blake, is asked by Maggie Gyllenhaal's journalist where his songs come from.

Pausing to take a slug of the whisky, which has contributed in no small part to his downfall, he replies: "Life, unfortunately." And there, in essence, you have what provides the still-beating heart of this particular genre.

The film isn't the most original you'll see, but in the world-weary performance of Bridges (a short-price favourite for Best Actor at the Oscars), there's a genuinely convincing picture painted of the kind of man whose life and experiences carry through into his songs. One of those songs, The Weary Kind, is itself looking good for a gong later this month and was co-written by the great T-Bone Burnett and upcoming country star Ryan Bingham (coincidentally, the name of the character played by George Clooney in the Oscar-nominated Up in the Air -- now, how strange is that?), and is really is a fine piece of storytelling.

Of course, most great songwriters have plenty of stories to tell (hell, even Bob Dylan's yarns are worth a listen) and next week we have the opportunity to see two excellent exponents of the songsmith's craft on stage together at the Olympia. Between them, Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt have clocked up more than 70 years in the business, recording more than a score of albums and amassing a treasure trove of anecdotes along the way.

While the Indianapolis-born Hiatt has served his time as a performer and sideman (not least alongside Ry Cooder and Nick Lowe in the short-lived Little Village), he's more renowned as a singer-songwriter in the classic mode, his songs being covered by, among others, Dylan, Iggy Pop, Three Dog Night, Bonnie Raitt, Willie Nelson, Dave Edmunds and the Neville Brothers. The classic, bittersweet She Loves the Jerk is a wry killer, which stands comparison with the best of Elvis Costello, while in his personal life Hiatt has battled both the bottle and throat cancer, and come out the other side.

Like Hiatt, Texas troubadour Lyle Lovett has had his songs covered by Nelson, while his music has veered from folk, country and rock'n'roll into experiments with a big-band sound. He's also had forays into acting, making appearances in Robert Altman's The Player and Short Cuts -- where he played a psychotic baker determined to be paid for the birthday cake he made for a grieving couple -- and in 1993 was briefly married to Julia Roberts.

Lovett is a natural raconteur with a wicked and playful sense of humour, as you'd expect from someone whose version of Tammy Wynette's Stand By Your Man appears over the closing credits of The Crying Game; and on his classic tune God Will, he delivers the deadly lines: "Who keeps on trusting you/ When you've been cheating/ And spending your nights on the town/ God will/ But I won't/ And that's the difference between God and me".

Ah yes, Hiatt and Lovett swapping songs and stories should make for a memorable night, indeed.

Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt play the Olympia on Wednesday; Crazy Heart opens on February 19th, and the soundtrack is available on Lost Highway


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