Somewhere 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.
Some 27 years after Lyle Lovett signed with Curb Records he brings the association to an end with Release Me, a collection of covers and oddities to usher the singer out of his contract. Lyle makes no bones about his departure, not with the album's title or its cover of Lovett tied up in a lariat, but for as misshapen and wooly as it is, Release Me actually doesn't play like a contractual obligation. Sure, Lovett may have only two writing credits among these 14 songs and both of the cuts are holiday tunes, but the appeal of Release Me is that it's decidedly messier than Lyle has allowed himself to be on record.
Lyle Lovett has worn many hats since emerging on the country scene in the mid-8os, many of which have not been of the 10-gallon variety. The proud Texan singer-songwriter, with the aid of his large (not big) band, has negotiated an eclectic career that has deftly combined elements of country, folk, jazz, and the blues, all tied neatly together by a transcendent voice that can capture the cool grit of an outlaw on one song and reflect the frailty of a wounded lover the next. On Release Me, Lovett plies this musical dexterity to offer lovely renderings of several of his favorite songs by others.
LYLE LOVETT AND HIS ACOUSTIC GROUP play Roy Thomson Hall tonight (Thursday, July 26). See listing. Rating: NNN As a musician, Lyle Lovett is almost above reproach. He knows his way around the roots music lexicon, infusing his songs with playfulness or wistfulness as needed. At his best, he can ….
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 cover image of Lyle Lovett roped head to toe and the title of his 11th album are a gentle poke at the only record label the continental Texan has called home. After more than 25 years, Release Me is his last for Curb Records. While not overtly summing up his celebrated career to this point, the disc does reflect the country, folk, gospel, and pop styles he's explored so genially and genuinely.
Lyle Lovett signed with Curb Records in the 1980s and has been there—or on Universal, or on Curb partner Lost Highway—ever since. That’s a quarter-century, nine studio albums, thousands of shows, a tabloid marriage, countless hair jokes, and a mercifully short acting career. This is his last album in his contract with the label, so in true Lyle Lovett fashion it’s wryly titled Release Me and features the granite-faced singer tied up on the cover.