This year's series of free summer concerts at the two Levitt Pavilions in MacArthur Park and Pasadena ramped the talent wattage up with shows by several esteemed musicians who don't typically play free shows, notably Richard Thompson, Loudon Wainwright III, David Lindley and Saturday's closer for the Pasadena run of shows, John Fullbright.
Fullbright scored an impressive 80 (on a scale of 100) on Metacritic.com's aggregate review website for his latest album, "Songs," in which the 26-year-old Oklahoma singer and songwriter has further honed his talent for tautly illuminating observations about life, love and, this time out, the art of writing a song.
"Tell me what's so bad about happy?" he asks in the album's opening track, "Happy," in which he hopes to divest himself of the notion that art necessarily derives from the artist's personal misery.
And in the track that follows, "When You're Here," he crafts poetic verses filled with emotion and interior rhymes that surely would impress even Bob Dylan himself:
Ever changing, ever moving
Ever finding, ever losing
Every moment of our choosing bears a cost
As for lonely, I can show you
How to live a life alone
All it takes is getting used to getting lost
When I spoke to Fullbright in May just ahead of the release of "Songs," he still expressed amazement that his self-produced 2012 album "From the Ground Up" had scored a Grammy Award nomination for the best Americana album—a year that put him head to head with such bright lights of Americana music as Mumford & Sons, the Avett Brothers, the Lumineers and, the woman who took home the Grammy, Bonnie Raitt.
Even without the win, Fullbright noted the lasting benefit of the nomination.
"It's like having a doctorate: It's a title you put before your name, and nobody can take it away from you," he said in his Oklahoma drawl, before adding dryly, "But even doctors can be quacks, so I certainly don't rest on my laurels in that regard."
Fullbright came through the Southland in June for a solo question-answer session and mini-performance at the Grammy Museum as part of the organization's new Americana music series of events, but Saturday's show will give him and his trio the spotlight for a full performance of songs that are equally impressive for their emotional range as for their lyrical conciseness.
"I've become a lot more economical in my writing than when I was younger," he said. "There were a couple songs [on 'Songs'] literally being edited in the shower before we went in to sing the main vocal. What's great about right now, as opposed to four years ago, is that as a writer, is I'd never had the ability to edit…. That's probably the most freeing experience I've had, and I think this record is a testament to that."