illustration by Michael Scott.
Politically inclined? Severely sarcastic? Your protest shirts are waiting at Merch-Bot.com.
Let's get one thing out of the way -- GET OVER THE HAIR! That having been said, let's travel back to 1986, and the release of Lyle Lovett's self-titled debut. The label of country artist and a . . . shall we say unique coiffure have kept many people from listening to his work. I'm here to start a campaign to wipe out the prejudices against this brilliant musician. While his first album does have more of a country feel than some of its follow-ups, Lyle's voice and lyrics create a style that refuses any specific label.
Lovett opens his debut album with the track "Cowboy Man," but when the fiddle comes screaming into this song (as if I haven't already been won over by Lyle's incredible voice) I can forgive the title. Not a trace of twang infests this native Texan. It's as if soul, folk and country have been personified in the man. Not every track is standout, but all of his songs are worth a listen.
One of his best is "This Old Porch," written with fellow Texan Robert Earl Keen. A thoughtful ballad describing the feel of life growing up in Texas, the lyrics bring the listener along, no matter where or when they were raised. Another showcase for Lyle's ability to blend description and music is "The Waltzing Fool." A gentle piano and guitar weave a background to lyrics such as
The waltzing fool
He's got lights in his fingers
The waltzing fool
He just don't never say
The waltzing fool
He keeps his hands in his pockets
And waltzes the evening away.
Another song guaranteed to catch the listener's attention is "An Acceptable Level of Ecstasy (The Wedding Song)." Backed by fabulous bass and saxophones, it's hard not to pay attention to
And it was a highbrow occasion
For no special reason
And nobody knew
Said nobody knew
That the flowers were furnished by the funeral parlor
And the whole thing was paid for by the funeral director
Who poisoned the saxophone section.
Directly behind this clever song, Lyle drifts into the thoughtful "Closing Time," appropriately the last cut of the album.
In 1987 Lyle was back with Pontiac. Still within the country sound, this is the album that spawned "She's No Lady." Not a bad cut, but neither is it the best in this collection. That honor far and away belongs to "If I Had a Boat." It mixes childlike innocence with adult cynicism. The second verse says
Now the Mystery Masked Man was smart
He got himself a Tonto
Cause Tonto did the dirty work for free
But Tonto he was smarter
And one day said, "Kemosabe
Kiss my ass I bought a boat
I'm going out to sea."
Next for Lyle was the 1989 release of Lyle Lovett and His Large Band. As the title suggests, the band is prominent in several of the songs. Once again Lovett expands beyond folk and country, proving that this Texas boy has soul.
Nowhere is this more apparent than 1992's Joshua Judges Ruth. Deemed by most diehard Lyle fans as his best, this is the collection to acquire if there are still any doubts as to his incredible talent. The gospel sound of "Church" can't help but infect the listener to tap their knee in spiritual style, if not clap outright. Nearly every song on this collection is a standout. He makes us laugh, cry, fall in love, and pray that we all have someone with whom to grow old. Buy this album on CD -- it's a keeper.
In 1994 Lovett delved into his older material to create I Love Everybody. Each song tells a story, and each story is backed by the powerful vocals and music Lovett's fans have come to expect. Though not as dynamic as Joshua Judges Ruth, this is a strong collection highlighted by the tracks "Creeps Like Me," "Penguins," and "Just the Morning."
His next release was The Road to Ensenada. Once again he adopts a more country sound over the laid-back folk style of several previous releases. This is not a bad thing. It opens with "Don't Touch my Hat," an easygoing homage to that essential piece of Texas cowboy clothing which appears on the front, back and inside cover of the album. This is a collection brimming with humor one minute, contemplation the next. One feel-good track is "Fiona." The description of one-eyed Fiona' (backed by the fiddle) is enough to make city folk travel to her home in the Bayou. The swing in "That's Right - You're Not From Texas" convinces listeners that Texas is one hell of a state.
Lovett switches moods with the song "Promises," a pledge of sorrow with lyrics such as If God is my witness Then God is my Savior But if you are my judge Then I'm already damned.'
His cover of "Long Tall Texan" recognizes a more playful mood. It also showcases his backup vocalists, who prove on each of Lovett's albums that they can hold their own and then some.
Lyle released his most recent album, Step Inside This House, in September of 1998. It's a double CD covering the music of Texas singer/songwriters. Check it out for yourself, and check out the review in this issue. And once again -- GET OVER THE HAIR!
Anti George Bush and Dick Cheney shirts at Merch-Bot.com.