Review : Lyle Lovett - Release Me
PopmattersThis album isn't good, but it has good intentions.
I admit, part of me wants to tie up Lyle Lovett and leave him in the desert, just to get him to scream or cuss or react in an appropriately unsubtle fashion. But since I, like Lovett, grew up Lutheran, I have learned to suppress such urges. And anyway, no matter what you might think of Lovett, he’s beaten you to it. There he is on the cover of his eleventh album Release Me, tied up in the desert, looking resigned and frankly unsurprised that his photographer did this to him. The album’s title slyly yet affectionately kisses off his career-spanning Curb Records contract, which ends now that Release Me is in the can. Lovett slyly yet affectionately sends up his public persona with two of the album’s cover songs: Michael Franks’s “White Boy Lost in the Blues” and Chuck Berry’s “Brown Eyed Handsome Man”. The guy’s sly and affectionate like a Zen monk. His heart’s as wide and unknowable as the Texas plains, even if he sings about as effortlessly as an oilman digging a well.
Lovett started his Curb career as an Americana visionary, blending country, blues, jazz, and even thorny modernism—think the droning storms of “She’s Already Made Up Her Mind”—into irreducible crowd pleasers. He formed a small Western swing combo and a Large Band full of expert musicians, many of whom have stuck with him for years. Lovett’s blues phrasing often seems pinched or stiff, his voice cracking off lines as though he’s not sure how to end them, but his bands and songwriting rarely hit a wrong note, metaphorically or otherwise.
Release Me isn’t so visionary. It’s largely covers and duets, with Lovett coasting through some favorite songs with his combo. (Horns appear only once, on the Triple-A single “Isn’t That So”.) As such, you probably don’t need it unless you’re a completist, either for all things Lovett or for renditions of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”.
Yes, there’s one of those—Release Me includes all of Lovett’s 2011 Christmas EP Songs for the Season. You may argue that the world needs another cover of “Baby” like it needs a nuclear Iran, and you’d be right, especially since Blaine and Kurt’s definitive version on Glee. But Lovett’s duet with Austin jazz singer Kat Edmonson is one of the drunker takes out there; as their voices wobble and intertwine, they actually sound like they’re inventing the song while they sing. The chipmunk-voiced Edmonson also shows up on Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmastime Is Here”, which is pleasant while it lasts. The most useful of the Xmas tunes is Lovett’s tossed-off original “The Girl With the Holiday Smile”, about the chipper whore he met at the grocery store. Hey, “whore” and “store” rhyme!
Other Covers That Are Good include Ray Price’s title shuffle, with k.d. lang taking the role of Kitty Wells; Charley Jordan’s rapid-fire blues “Keep It Clean”; Townes Van Zandt’s choogaloogin’ “White Freightliner Blues”; and the swingin’ modal instrumental “Garfield’s Blackberry Blossom”. The aforementioned “White Boy” features vocals from Arnold McCuller, whom you may remember as the Preacher in Lovett’s 1992 epic “Church”. These songs offer nothing in the way of surprise or reinterpretation, but they’re nice to hear. The most surprising tune is probably the gorgeous “Night’s Lullaby”, which Lovett wrote for a production of Much Ado About Nothing. Lovett’s open-throated yearning, some lovely guest harmonies, and a great fiddle line make “Lullaby” resonate far beyond its original context....full text
PastemagazineSomewhere between Leonard Cohen and Bob Wills lies the Promised Land inhabited by Lyle Lovett, who balances elegantly broken romanticism with loose-jointed swing that shuffles and jumps like exalted Texas Playboys. Lanky with high rise hair, Lovett has been an anomaly of the singer/songwriter ilk since appearing with a chock-a-block debut album—and Release Me, his final album of an almost 30-year career for Curb, finds him resolutely steadfast in his excellence and eclecticism.
Opening with a hard reel, fiddles flying in close formation and gallop-beats pummeling the traditional “Garfield’s Blackberry Blossom,” this true country nugget suggests Lovett’s final Curb project is an homage to the people, artists and oeuvres that have, as they say in the South, “brought him.” Melting into the slinky noir jazz of the doubly ironic title track, he gets entangled with fellow country-cred-scare upstart and world-class chanteuse kd lang for a rumination on the silken torture of needing to be freed from a love that is gone.
A tribute to his roots, there are songs by obscure folkies, who inspired Lovett. Eric Taylor’s tentative outreach to a girl (“Understand You”) and John Grimaudo and Saylor White’s breathtaking tale of a seaman’s child and the siren/mother who’re torn apart by the hale fellow’s preference for the water (“Dress of Laces,”) take yearning to near madness, a theme found in Lovett’s own songs.
Not all is dour. Lovett writes “The Girl With The Holiday Smile,” a jaunty homage to a hooker in the grocery store, and revisits the droll “White Boy Lost in the Blues” with a soulful vocal assist from Arnold McCuller, skewering poseur musicianship with a sincerity that takes irony to another level....full text
TwangnationAs a part of what Steve Earle called “Nashville’s great credibility scare of the mid ’80s.” Lyle Lovett, along with Earle, k.d. Lang, Dwight Yoakam and others took up the traditionalist Outlaw mantel of the 70′s and reinvigorated country music from it’s soft-rock and Urban Cowboy influence the times.
Lyle Lovett’s new album “Release me,” exhibits pun in name as well as aesthetic. The album is the last for the Curb Records, the label for his entire 26-year. 11-album, career. And in case you missed that the cover art depicts Lyle tied up head-to-ankle in a lariat.
Though Lovett continues a late career trend of including cover songs. But this adios to Curb raises the stakes as it contains only two Lovett originals among the album’s 14 tunes. You might conclude that this last release would be a weakened collection to meet contractual obligations. You would be wrong in that assessment.
Sure Lovett may not be the most prolific songwriter on the planet but he is one of the best interpreters. Sure Lovett may not be the most prolific songwriter on the planet but he is one of the best interpreters. There is no one fit to polish Lovett’s boots when it comes close to serving as a diplomat for the eclectic music styles of the Lone Star State.
“Release me” wastes no time offering a burning interpretation of the classic instrumental breakdown of “Garfield’s Blackberry Blossom.” The number made popular in the 1930s by Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith sounds both timeless and spirited in the hands of Lovett and his band.
The title track became a hit for both Jimmy Heap and Ray Price, both in 1954. Here it’s done as a duet with Lovett and k.d. lang, who is so far down in themix her soaring vocals are lost. That quibble aside it’s a great tear-in-my-beer standard well done.
The cover of Michael Franks’ “White Boy Lost in the Blues” slinks in with the funky blues accentuated by Arnold McCuller harmony vocals.The gospel/R&B and Memphis horn-sound of “Isn’t That So” works to a rousing effect and will probably kill live....full text
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