Lovett's latest displays his diversity
One thing Lyle Lovett made clear in a recent interview is how fortunate he feels to have had the kind of experiences that have shaped his musical career.
Since he came on the national scene in 1986, he has established himself as one of the most distinctive talents to come out of Nashville.
His grasp of not only Texas-styled country, but jazz, blues, gospel and pop has given Lovett's music a range that few artists can match.
Meanwhile, his wry sense of humor, the unique subject matter of some of his songs and his ability to craft vividly detailed lyrics have made Lovett one of the smartest, most literate songwriters of his generation.
"I've been really lucky all these years to be able to be myself," Lovett observed. "The people that I've worked with within the Universal Music Group, they just always left me alone and let me be myself."
Nowhere has that good fortune — and the freedom to pursue his interests — been more evident in the range of projects Lovett has tackled during the past seven years.
His new CD, "My Baby Don't Tolerate," is Lovett's first studio CD of original ma-terial since the 1996 release, "The Road to Ensenada."
In the time between those CDs, Lovett has been anything but idle. He recorded "Step Inside This House," a 1998 two-CD set of covers that highlighted his versions of songs by the writers who had most influenced him.
He also released a concert CD, "Live In Texas," in 1999. In 2000, Lovett made his first foray into film scoring with the soundtrack to the Robert Altman film "Dr. T & the Women" and earlier this year released a collection of songs he had recorded for film soundtracks called "Smile."
Sandwiched between those records was "Anthology One: Cowboy Man," a 2001 greatest-hits CD covering material from Lovett's first three studio albums.
Those projects aside, Lovett realizes that not all artists would be allowed to go seven years without releasing a CD of original material. Again, Lovett expressed his gratitude for this situation.
"I've been always lucky to kind of go at my own pace," he said. "And I've been working on these songs on ("My Baby Don't Tolerate") for the last few years, and it was really just a matter of wanting to wait until I had the songs I wanted to record. I was lucky enough to be able to do other things in the meantime, and of course, continue to tour."
Longtime Lovett fans, even if they believe a new studio CD has been overdue, should be pleased with "My Baby Don't Tolerate." The solid and entertaining CD, while it leans toward country, perhaps more than any other single Lovett CD, showcases the stylistic breadth of his music.
There's fast-shuffling country on "The Truck Song" and "Cute as a Bug," some bluesy twang on the title song and lovely country balladry with "In My Own Mind."
The jazzy, western swing side of Lovett's sound shows up on "San Antonio Girl," and full-blown gospel on the final two songs, "I'm Going to Wait" and "I'm Going to the Place."
The diversity of "My Baby Don't Tolerate," Lovett said, wasn't calculated.
"I try to strike kind of a balance in what I'm presenting, but I really think it's more a result of sort of being left to my own devices," he said. "It certainly wasn't conceived as a kind of strategy."
One decision that consciously was made was to spotlight the musicians who play on "My Baby Don't Tolerate." The CD features the contributions of several players who have backed Lovett on other releases, including guitarist Dean Parks, fiddle player Stuart Duncan, steel guitarist Paul Franklin and pianist Matt Rollings.
Each of those instrumentalists gets to show his stuff by weaving solos and fills into many of the songs on the new CD.
"So many times you do an arrangement for a recording, and then as you play a song live, the arrangement sort of changes and gets stretched out a little bit. You add things to the arrangement for the live setting," Lovett said. "It didn't occur that any of these songs would really be headed toward a two-and-a-half- or three-minute, country-radio format.
"Going in, I didn't feel any limitations in terms of a commercial sort of convention. And so I thought let's play these the way they'll end up on stage. That was sort of my idea,'' he explained.
While "My Baby Don't Tolerate" focuses on new original material, Lovett said the other CDs that followed "The Road to Ensenada" were important for him.
"Step Inside This House," in particular, was a project that was close to Lovett's heart. Featuring songs by such artists as Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Walter Hyatt and Steven Fromholz, the CD offered a good sense of Lovett's musical roots.
"Getting to do the 'Step Inside This House' record was something that I had had in mind for a long time," Lovett said. "Those are all songs that I had been playing since I first started performing, and it was something that I had had in mind for a long time."
Lyle Lovett plays today — Oct. 23 — at the Fox Theatre. Tickets for the 8 p.m. show cost $47.50, $37.50 and $27.50.