Anyone with any sense will tell you that Lyle Lovett‘s voice smoulders sensuality. A smoothed-out gravel grate. he cracks with feeling as familiar tales of lyin’ and lovin’ and leavin’ and cheatin‘ and drinkin‘ are related. a voice always on the verge of tears and always on the verge of bustin‘ loose. This is emotion in motion and by crikey it stirs the heart.

Lyle Lovett is. apparently, part of this thing they’re calling New Country. a label which isn‘t worth a pitcher of warm piss as far as the musicitselfis concerned . . . ‘l was really interested in trying to do music but I didn’t think it was a realistic thing to do for a living‘ . . . since Lyle started offhis musical career in the place that had come to represent all that was gut-churning in country music in the Seventies. ‘I went to Nashville, really to try to get other people to listen to my songs. One thing led to another, I kept meeting people. But I got a better response for the performances of the songs rather than for the songs themselves. That was kinda disappointing in a way.’

But despite the popular image of Nashville rhinestone. cowboy stores. Twitty City Lyle landed on his feet. It was 1984: ‘I think my timing was good. unwittingly I showed up at the right time. when Nashville was very open and looking for new things. People were very willing to listen.‘

The result was a record deal and an album called Lyle Lovett. and by no means was this your normal ‘country‘ album. ‘It was important to me to introduce other kinds of music on the first album as well. Like that whole blues thing that turned up on the next two albums. I wanted to introduce on the first album because I knew that I would be doing that eventually.‘

As it transpired. Lyle the young pup. sneaked into the well-entrenched establishment: the album was assured enough in its country credentials to achieve radio success and bristling enough to promise something more. The next album would be a belter.

And indeed it was. Pontiac is bitter. joyous. melancholy. triumphant a classic. ‘I didn‘t feel it was quite as necessary to write singles for country radio. At that point the record company was very supportive of letting me be a singer-songwriter. l was just trying to record. . . the songs I liked.’ His voice trails offand the transatlantic time delay means that l gabber inanely all over what Lyle‘s trying to say that he’s an artist. a country star in the way country stars used to be. back in the days of monochrome and frequent light aircraft crashes. when shimmering white buckskins were only worn by Alan Ladd‘s Shane. For Lyle Lovett. none of the tacky

perversion of the American myth that brought us country music as the Seventies defined it: ‘lt‘s not about music, it can be much more about the personalities ofthe singer. or the whole fashion ofcountry music. The

The New Country movement is said to have rejuvenated the country music scene, but all too often it’s the same old mutton dressed up as prime cow pie. There’s precious few like the truly eclectic, smouldering Lyle Lovett, as Craig McLean discovers.

whole cultural aspect ofcountry music. . . it‘s a carnival thing.‘ We all know what he‘s talking about. Albums owned by your mother that she played to death every afternoon. festivals at Wembley, ‘D.l.V.O.R.C.E.’. general glitzy pap. Consumerism swallowed the true grit. and it’s taken two decades for ‘New Traditionalists‘ like Lyle. Randy and Dwight to reintroduce the lumps.

The trick. though, is not to get too caught up in labels. When it came to this year’s Lyle Lovett and his Large Band the pigeon-holes were

redundant. The album’s sassy and brassy, rootsy and tootsy, and anybody who tried to call Lyle a straight-assed country singer lost any credibility they may once have had. “I really wasn’t thinking ofit in the context ofcountry. Some ofthe songs were part of a demo project that I‘d put together to get a record deal in the first place. so some of these arrangements dated from then. It was really just a progression. being able to introduce a little more of that style of music.’

The Large Band album is a game of two halves. The first is be-bop blues. finger-popping, inspired word play.

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indignant vocals. from Francine Reed. and blaring brass. ‘l've always liked blues. and my parents record collection had old Ray Charles and Nat King Cole records. and Big Band stuff. But I think I‘m more directly influenced by songwriters from Texas. people that ‘I could go and see. Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt.‘

It is these latter influences that are obvious on the second side. where folk simplicity and verve shine through as guitars and violins scrape mournfully. This is a man ofeclectic tastes and talents. I mention his illustrious appearance on The Last Resort in a spur of the moment jamming session with Jonathon Ross and Harry Dean Stanton fora rendition of ‘Woolly Bully‘. I call to mind last year's Andy Kershaw session where Lyle reworked. restyled and rejuvenated four ofhis classics. I remember his energetic performance of‘M.O.N.E.Y.' on Wired. And then there‘s. . . a cover of ‘Stand By Your Man‘. a song title like ‘I Married Her Just Because She Looks Like You.’ a lyric like ‘Kimosabe. kiss my ass. I bought a boat. I‘m goin‘ out to sea‘. a trusty cellist as his sidekick. a Big Band sound to challenge conventions and conformity. There’s something strange going on tonight. and on-stage the phenomenon is sure to conunue.

‘l‘m looking very forward to coming up to Scotland to play.‘ he enthuses. A rapturous reception is guaranteed. ‘Well that‘s very exciting. Really. I can't wait!’.

Lyle Lovett, Assembly Rooms. Edinburgh. Tue21 November and City Hall. Candleriggs. Glasgow Wed 22 November.

The List 10— 23 November 1989 5