Relevancy is an elusive pursuit in the music world, where careers ebb and flow and popularity dims with little warning.
Loretta Lynn will turn 84 in April. Earlier this month, she released “Full Circle,” her first album since 2004. You could call it her comeback album, but Lynn hasn’t exactly gone away in the intervening 12 years. Rather, she has toured consistently and remained relevant in country music, a reminder of its glory days and a star immune to the whims of fashion.
Thursday night, Lynn was the marquee act on a bill at Stubb’s Bar-B-Q. Her South by Southwest Music Festival showcase was sponsored by BBC Music, a sign that reverence for her is vast and global.
Lynn was the headliner, but she opened the show, leaving the later spots for younger bands who don’t mind staying up late. Before a crowd of about 1,000 fans, she delivered the usual: an air of elegance — she wore a ruby-red sequined gown — and a set filled with classic country hits and Lynn’s usual spitfire rapport with her band and her audience.
She opened with “They Don’t Make ’Em Like My Daddy Anymore,” her tribute to a “one heck of a man that worked for what he got.” From there, she bounced from one hit and favorite to the next: “You’re Lookin’ at Country,” “When the Tingle Becomes a Chill,” “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man),” “Blue Kentucky Girl,” “Fist City, “ “She’s Got You” and “I’m a Honky-Tonk Girl.”
Lynn sat through much of the 40-minute set, and though her voice isn’t as powerful and agile as it once was, she commanded the venue and the large crowd. She took requests and redeemed them. “Whatever you want to hear, holler it out,” she said. “If I don’t know it, you can come up and sing it yourself.”
And she jousted with her band. When her son Ernie suggested she sing “Everything It Takes,” a song off her new album, she declined, admitting she wasn’t sure she’d remember all the lyrics. But her band started playing the song anyway. She ignored them, then warned them: “You’d better listen to me or you’re gonna be playing for someone else next week.”
They listened to her and played another “Circle” track, “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven,” but Lynn’s daughter Patsy would later kneel by her side and help her get through “Everything.”
She closed with the usual, “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” but not before feigning anger about getting a “time’s up” warning from the SXSW crew. “They’re mean to me here,” she told the crowd, which, like Lynn, would have gladly hung around for much more.
Soul Asylum has had a more difficult task trying to revive its popularity and muster some sense of relevance.
The Minneapolis band has been plugging along since the early 1980s. Its commercial heyday was in the mid-1990s, when it released two Top 20 albums, “Grave Dancers Union, ” released in 1992, and “Let Your Dim Light Shine,” released in 1995. Since then, it has released three albums that failed to crack the Top 100 plus “Change of Fortune,” its first album in four years, released this week.
It was early Friday morning by the time Soul Asylum took the stage at the Belmont before a crowd that showed various levels of interest. Lead man and band founder Dave Pirner looks much like he did back in the ’90s: lanky and with a heavy mane of shoulder-length hair.
He and the latest incarnation of the band stormed through a loud, energetic set that included some favorites, like “Misery,” “Shut Down,” “Just Like Anyone” and “I Will Still Be Laughing.”
They also revealed some new songs from “Fortune,” including “Supersonic,” a melodic anthem with a hard and loose-fitting vibe, a la the Replacements.
For a band that once played large theaters and amphitheaters, the vibe felt low-key. There were diehards in the audience of about 150 or so showing their love and appreciation, but others tacitly expressed their indifference. Pirner said “You’re too kind” several times, whether he meant it or not.
The crowd had thinned by the time they played their closer, “April Fool,” which includes the lines, “Holding on to what’s left of real life / Anything to be cool.”
Perhaps the new record will revive this band, and it will be cool and relevant again. For now, it feels like their light is shining dimly. Other showcases:
Sean Orr and Celtic Texas: They played a St. Patrick’s Day set at an Irish bar, B.D. Riley’s. They look like a ’70s hippie band — Mason Proffit or the Allmans — but they stir a rowdy Celtic vibe, like a cross between Gaelic Storm and the Elders.
The Wild Ponies: They’re from Nashville, a husband-wife bass/guitar duo with a drummer, and they play good-time old-timey music, all of it driven by the powerful, expressive voice of Telisha Williams. Their set at the Shangri-La drew a small but attentive crowd to the acoustic stage at the MidCoast Takeover, a four-day showcase sponsored by Kansas City’s Midwest Music Foundation.
The Electric Lungs: They win the sportsmanship award for dealing with sound issues at the outdoor stage at the Shangri-La. They’re a vibrant rock/pop/punk band from Kansas City, and their music won over a crowd that showed them much appreciation for performing with much energy despite not having any vocal amplification (an issue that was fixed for the ensuing set by the Architects).
Cocafunka: They’re a reggae/funk band from Costa Rica that played the international stage inside the Austin Convention Center. Reggae is a genre with some variety issues, but this troupe gave it enough twists and accents to make it sound better than run-of-the-mill.