Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
[Welcome to Thirty Year Thursday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1986, which now shifts to the releases I didn’t discover until after 1986]
Artist: LYLE LOVETT
Album: LYLE LOVETT
By the time Texas-born singer/songwriter Lyle Lovett released his eponymous debut album on MCA Records in 1986 he was already in his late-20s, practically ancient for a new recording artist. What he lacked in youth was more than offset by a distinctive vocal delivery, witty & incisive lyrics and songs that combined elements of traditional country, blues, folk, jazz, gospel and more. His instantly recognizable angular facial features and the mop of hair that would soon grow to Eraserhead proportions were originally deterrents for me since, as I stated in Part 1 of my series on the similarly idiosyncratic k.d. lang, I was around 20 years old when both artists emerged and I allowed physical appearances to cloud my musical judgment. Within a few years my ears & eyes were open to these incredible talents and I’ve been an enthusiastic fan ever since. Initially, Lyle Lovett comes across as a typical modern-day traditional country album, similar in many ways to Dwight Yoakam’s debut release from the same year, but repeated listening (which is easy with a running time of 33 minutes) reveals the depths of his talents, much as it did with Mr. Yoakam.
The Top 10 country single “Cowboy Man” is a great way to kick off the album (and his career), a country/skiffle song with jump-blues energy. The comparison to Yoakam is most evident on the midtempo “Farther Down The Line,” a pretty tune with great piano work that just missed the country Top 20. There are also a number of wonderful ballads: “God Will,” a waltz with tasteful instrumentation and a strong hook at “That’s the difference between God and me”; “This Old Porch,” a melancholy country/folk song (co-written with his old friend Robert Earl Keen) with Lovett’s aching vocals: and “Closing Time,” a sweet, melancholy story song that, fittingly, closes the album. Lovett shows off his playful side on “Why I Don’t Know,” an upbeat song with bluesy guitar & piano that cracked the country Top 20. “You Can’t Resist It” might be the most surprising (and anomalous) song here. With fuzzy & stinging electric guitars and even some synthesizer, it’s the most rockin’ track on the album and further evidence of his diversity. “The Waltzing Fool” is a prototypical Lovett song that points to many that would follow, with lovely acoustic guitar, tinkling piano and his voice conveying a lot of emotion. “An Acceptable Level Of Ecstasy (The Wedding Song)” looks ahead to the “Large Band” he would put together a few years later, blending jazz & blues with gospel backing vocals. I’m sure this left country fans & radio programmers baffled but it showcases his unique musical gifts. Can anyone else imagine Tom Waits singing this early in his career? I couldn’t find the studio recording on YouTube but the live performance from 1988 embedded below is a pretty faithful rendition. There are a few Lyle Lovett albums I would recommend to the uninitiated before this one, but once you fall under his spell you should find a lot to enjoy here. It also hasn’t aged a day over the last 30 years.