As large as he wants to be – Lovett does it his way

BY TERRY MATHEWS | News-Telegram Arts Editor

Aug 28, 2007 - Some days are better than others. Tuesday must have been just spectacular for Lyle Lovett. His new CD, “It’s Not Big It’s Large,” was released to wide critical acclaim. It is his first offering in four years.

Photo by Michael Wilson

Lyle Lovett

Whether you’re a long-time fan or have only recently fallen under his quirky, off-beat spell, yesterday was a reason to celebrate all around. The CD is vintage Lovett, pleasing and teasing at every turn.

�Upon listening to �Tickle Toe� the first time, you will think you�ve been dropped into the middle of an evening with Count Basie, except for the presence of Stuart Duncan�s fiddle. Basie might have used a violin or two, but I doubt he ever featured a fiddle. The musicians sound like they�re having the best time, just jamming around, showing off for one another, and you�re just lucky enough to be along for the ride.

The instant “Tickle Toe” ends, the CD makes a 180 degree turn.

�I Will Rise Up� feels like the great, glorious Negro spirituals of old. Lovett pairs his new tune with the traditional prison work song, �Ain�t Nor More Cane,� a song he and Robert Earl Keen learned when they were next door neighbors during their college days at Texas A&M, about 70 miles from his hometown of Klein.�

�Robert Earl Keen and I learned it together on his back porch back in �77 or �78,� Lovett said in a press release. �I always liked the song even though it sounds plaintive and sincere. It really was an inside joke among the prisoners, a device to slow down the pace of the work and make fun of the guards, because sugar cane was never a crop on that part of the Brazos. It was and still is cotton.�

Lovett’s coastal plains roots run deep. His great-great-grandfather founded the town where he grew up. His mother was a Klein. He lives in the  his grandmother’s house, now located on land owned by his parents. 

He graduated from A&M with a degree in journalism, and then later in German.

Lovett puts his education to good use every time he picks up a pen and puts his thoughts on paper. 

�I Will Rise Up� evokes images of New Orleans after Katrina, but Lovett says, �It�s not as specific to Katrina as it is to the overall uncertainty that�s presented itself since 9/11. ... It�s about accepting who you are and being who you are in the face of life and all that comes with life, including death.�

I’m not sure how this song will translate to a tour, because in order to reproduce the deep, gospel background vocals, he’ll surely have to hire an entire church choir. 

I am partial to the peppy “All Downhill,” because in it Lovett sings about the joys of hanging with Joe Ely, John Hiatt and Guy Clark, all great singer-songwriters. It also details the surprises that success brings and the uncertainty every performer must deal with from time to time. It’s nice to see someone on top of his game honoring his friends and mentors.

In a promotional video, Lovett calls Clark his “song-writing hero,” so it’s fitting that Clark provides the opening and closing vocals on “South Texas Girl,” an unassuming melody with profound lyrics.

�That song moves back and forth between memories of driving around the Lone Star state with my parents, singing old songs I didn�t understand, and then passing over the same roads today,� Lovett says. � That�s where life is, driving around with the person or people you love. It really doesn�t get any better than that.�

�Traveling Around� is an ode to life on the road, be it a musician or long-haul truck driver. It doesn�t grab your attention at first, but after several passes, its direct lyrics, repeated again and again, get under your skin.�

Lovett says “Up in Indiana” came about right before his 2006 tour.

�Just before our tour started last summer outside of Boise, I went to a wedding in Greensburg, Indiana,� Lovett says.� �Driving south from the Indianapolis airport down two-lane country roads in the beginning of July, the corn looked at its peak height. The road was like a tunnel through the cornfields.�

There’s a correctional facility for non-violent offenders in Henryville, Indiana.

�As I drove along, I� thought �What if the corn were the bars of another kind of prison?� If prison work gangs chop cotton in Texas, they must cut corn in Indiana.�

Now, imagine this story told at a tempo that will make you want to tap your toes and scoot your boots.

At the end of the CD, there is a fine acoustic version of the tune that shows off Lovett’s distinctive wail and gives Sam Bush and Jeff White the opportunity to let loose on their mandolins.

�No Big Deal� will remind long-time Lovett fans why they fell in love with him in the first place.

If you listen to “No Big Deal” at the same time as Lovett’s 1998 cover of Willis Alan Ramsey's “Sleepwalking,” you’d understand just how far-reaching Ramsey’s influence has been. Lovett’s added some jazz notes to the intro, but his halting delivery and syncopated rhythms are pure Ramsey. Stuart Duncan’s fiddle makes the song a barrel of fun. 

�Make it Happy� reveals the soul of a contented man. Since 1999, Lovett has been romantically linked to April Kimble, a native of San Antonio. They met when Lovett was giving a speech on ethics at Texas A&M, where Kimble was a student. Happiness on the home front suits him and must be his just reward for surviving a brief Hollywood marriage to Julia Roberts in 1993. That union lasted less than two years.�

Perhaps the most poignant moment on the CD comes in “Don’t Cry a Tear.”  It is a tender goodbye to a loved one. 

The song begins with a cello humming out a singularly sad bass note, but there are unmistakable echoes of Beethoven's “Ode to Joy” throughout the song, so it must be a celebration of life, rather than a funeral dirge. 

Lovett gives us a lesson on how to leave and be left gracefully. Maybe the death of his father several years ago prompted this one. It’s lovely to think so.

Go if you must go.
Turn away if you must turn away.
Don’t cry a tear for me.

Laugh if you can smile.
Run if you’re walking away.
Don’t cry a tear for me.

Shout if you can speak.
Sing when you mention my name.
Don’t cry a tear for me.

Low in the valley.
Stand in the wind and the rain.
High on the mountain
See the sun shining again.

I've been a Lovett fan for more years than I can remember. He never fails to deliver the goods. With this new release, he has once again stepped up to the plate and hit a large home run. 

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