I was driving home in the late afternoon yesterday. It was one of those autumn days that has spring written all over it. My route took me through that most industrial section on New Jersey that many people who don’t care to know any better think is all that there is of my home state. The sun was taking on the chemical haze, and winning. I was listening to the new Lyle Lovett album, Natural Forces (Curb/Lost Highway), and Lyle’s cover of Townes Van Zandt’s beautiful “Loretta” came on. It made me realize how far I was, both geographically and psychically, from the heart of Texas that produced not only this song, but all of the other songs on the album. It’s a big and varied country, isn’t it?
In the tradition of his magnificent 1998 album Step Inside This House , Lyle Lovett has once again chosen to record songs by his favorite Texas songwriters, including Eric Taylor, Don Sanders, Vince Bell, and of course Townes Van Zandt, and add a few of his own to the mix. The good news is that the Texas writers have done what we expect of them, contributing beautiful, expertly crafted songs to the mix. Foremost among them is Eric Taylor’s stunning “Whooping Crane”. Taylor is a songwriter who should be more well known among the general populace. I also liked Tommy Elskes’ evocative “Bohemia,” Vince Bell’s “Sun And Moon And Stars,” and David Ball’s mournful “Don’t You Think I Feel It Too.” There are very few singers in popular music who convey sorrow and loss as well as Lovett.
Things get a little more problematic when it comes to Lovett’s original songs. The title trac, and “Empty Blue Shoes” are just fine, holding their own against the outside contributions. The real difficulty lies in a little tune called “Farmer Brown/Chicken Reel.” I understand that Lovett has a sly sense of humor, and I have often enjoyed it when properly deployed in his music, but there’s a very thin line between funny, and, well, stupid. I really didn’t need a song that goes on at length about Lovett choking his chicken. And I would have preferred another song from Eric Taylor to the rather trite collaboration with Robert Earl Keen that is “Rock and Roll.” For me, these tracks were nearly enough to derail the entire album, but in the end, the majority of the songs — particularly those by Lovett’s friends — are simply undeniable, as is Lovett’s one of a kind delivery.
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