Saturday, September 11, 2021

CD Odyssey Disc 1503: Lyle Lovett

This is my second review in a row featuring an artist with the initials LL. Cool, eh?

I admit that was weak. Let’s pretend it didn’t happen and get on with the review.

Disc 1503 is…. The Road to Ensenada

Artist: Lyle Lovett

Year of Release: 1998

What’s up with the Cover? Lyle clutches his hat to his breast. He would have liked to wear it, but as you can see, he has no head above the eyeline.

It looks like a fairly large hat as well - should we infer anything as a result? More on this later.

How I Came To Know It: I’ve had this album a long time, having been a Lyle Lovett fan since the early nineties. I still remember where I bought it; local record store, Lyle’s Place, which is a rather nifty bit of coincidental nomenclature. Even more so, given that Lyle’s Place announced last week they are closing after 40 years in business. I’ll miss Lyle’s Place – thanks to the Lyle family for all their great service over the years and all the best to whatever they decide to do next.

How It Stacks Up: I have 11 Lyle Lovett albums. This one is a top contender, coming in at #2. When I first bought this record, I probably would have placed it in the middle of the pack, but like any great record, I enjoy it more with each successive listen.

Ratings: 4 stars but almost 5

Lyle Lovett occupies a unique and hard to quantify place in music, somewhere halfway between country crooner and lounge singer. “The Road to Ensenada” is Lyle showing some of his best work in both worlds.

Lovett starts out country, with the opening track, “Don’t Touch My Hat.” This song has a decidedly western swing, and also gives us an early example of Lovett’s self-deprecating humour, which is such a huge part of his music. Here, we have a man that has lost a woman’s affection to an unknown rival and is making his final stand in search for a shred of dignity. This stand amounts to:

“I wear a seven and you’re out of order
Because I can tell from here, you’re a seven and a quarter
If it’s her you want, I don’t care about that
You can have my girl, but don’t touch my hat.”

Clever touch that the guy’s head is slightly bigger. Is this suggesting the rival’s head is fat, or is there a bit of a dick joke going on here? Yes.

This album comes out on the heels of Lovett’s whirlwind romance with Julia Roberts (they were married for a couple of years just prior to the release of “Road to Ensenada”) and while the divorce was amicable, the record has its share of both clever love songs, and deep heartbreak. Even an amicable divorce stings.

The album’s second track, “Her First Mistake” brings out Lovett’s lounge side, with a tiki lounge sound, that will make you want to get up and swing your hips on the dance floor, but not so vigorously to stain the pits of your suit or dress. Just a light and easy wiggle, decorated with a half-smile to show you’re having fun, but you’re not gonna scuff a shoe or spill your drink or anything. The lyrics features a guy trying various pick-up lines out on a woman at a party; I imagine leaning into her ear while they engage in the aforementioned dancing.

The arrangements demonstrate a lot of different approaches, and they all work equally well. The light lounge sound of “Her First Mistake” gives way to tunes like “Fiona” and “Private Conversation” which are dominated by soaring fiddles. At other times you’ll get big band horns as on “That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas)”. This style-jumping happens throughout the record, but never feels jarring.

It's not all sweetness and light. Lovett will also break your heart, without the humour to help it go down easier. His vocals are sneaky good. When he’s having his lounge-y fun, you just follow along on the story, but on songs like “Who Loves You Better” and “Christmas Morning”, his croon is laden with a complex and fully realized sadness.

Finally, a sincere shout-out to all the musicians that play on this record. Over twenty people contribute, and while some are more famous than others (Jackson Browne and Shawn Colvin both appear) every one of them is exceptional. When I saw Lovett in concert a few years ago, I marveled at the talent he had assembled around him, and “The Road to Ensenada” shows that he’s been doing this for years, maybe never better than here.

Listening to this record you get the impression that Lovett has been through a lot of peaks and valleys in the years prior. We’re all fortunate he was able to take all those laughs and tears and turn them into a collection of songs that just get better with age.

Best tracks: Don’t Touch My Hat, Her First Mistake, Fiona, Private Conversations, It Ought to Be Easier, I Can’t Love You Anymore, Christmas Morning, The Road to Ensenada

1 comment:

Shelbee on the Edge said...

Your wonderful wife sent me over this way and I have to say that I am so glad that she did! First of all, I freaking love your writing style. I can picture the music and nearly hear even the most unfamiliar songs start to play in my head. I laughed and smiled all the way through this review and now I do believe that I need to go listen to some Lyle Lovett. I cannot say that I have been a fan, but I also have never disliked his music. I just never really listened to it before, but I see that it will be worth my while to do so! Thank you for expanding my musical horizons!