by MCA Records
It has been 17 years since Lyle Lovett arrived in Nashville with a demo tape hinting of the brilliantly eccentric career to come -- a resume that now includes nine albums, acclaim from the pickiest of critics, a fiercely loyal fan base, sales upwards of four million, and even a second calling as a successful Hollywood actor. But perhaps the person who best captures why the Texas singer/songwriter’s appeal has lasted nearly two decades is Lovett himself:
“I went to high school. I was not popular. Now I’m older, and it don’t matter.”
This self-deprecating lyric from “The Truck Song,” the never-before-released track that opens Curb/MCA Nashville’s new retrospective of Lovett’s early recording career, shows the man with the famous lanky frame and shock of untamed hair has remained refreshingly grounded even amid years of success.
Lyle Lovett is one of the few artists who emerged out of Nashville’s whirlwind of experimentation in the mid-1980s to have an enduring, significant and boldly original career. Anthology Vol. I Cowboy Man represents the beginning of Lovett’s body of work. Of the album’s 15 tracks, 13 are from his first three albums: the debut Lyle Lovett (1986), the certified-gold Pontiac (1987), and the certified-gold and Grammy-winning And His Large Band (1989). Cowboy Man also includes two new songs that were recorded in the summer of 2001: “The Truck Song” - a Texas shuffle, and a western swing inspired, “San Antonio Girl.”
Cowboy Man borrows a handful of selections from his debut release that highlight this deft writing. “Farther Down the Line” uses rodeo images to convey a story of a man seeking love. “God Will,” built around crying pedal steel, tosses out a beer-soaked barb that would go on to define Lovett’s clever style. Lovett sings Texas swing over Merle Travis-inspired guitar picking on the Top-10 hit “Cowboy Man,” then seamlessly turns to blues shuffle on “Why I Don’t Know.” With the scene of a card game introducing a larger theme, “If I Were the Man You Wanted” ruminates on what must be accepted at face value. One track that stands out as a powerful foreshadowing of the lyrically rich course his career would take is “This Old Porch,” which he co-wrote with friend and college classmate Robert Earl Keen, in which a country porch is a metaphor for life itself.
On the five tracks of 1987’s Pontiac included on Cowboy Man, Lovett is clearly moving away from traditional country to explore other influences and develop his own unconventional style. The childlike “If I Had a Boat” is charmingly absurd, with Lovett, Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger and Tonto, sitting astride ponies on a boat. The upbeat “Give Back My Heart” tells a clever story of redneck love. The haunting duet with Emmylou Harris, “Walk Through the Bottomland,” draws from the more traditional sound of dance-hall waltz, while “I Loved You Yesterday” explores the ballad style of Marty Robbins over Spanish guitar. Lovett steps squarely out of the conventional in “L.A. County,” with a writing style that is more Flannery O’Connor than three-chord country.
Lovett assembled a stage full of players – a group of musicians that would make him a top touring act - for 1989’s album And His Large Band. The two tracks from that recording included on this retrospective, “Which Way Does That Old Pony Run” and “If You Were To Wake Up,” still reflect his love for country music.
Born on November 1, 1957, Lovett was raised north of Houston, TX in the unincorporated farming community known as Klein community, named after Lovett’s great-great grandfather Adam Klein, a German immigrant who came to the community in the 1840s. Lovett’s Texas roots run deep. He and his extended family still live on part of the original homestead.
He got his first guitar when he was seven years old and his first public performance came in the second grade when he sannng “Long Tall Texan” at a school talent show, which he later recorded as a duet with Randy Newman on the 1996 release The Road to Ensenada.
Music took a back seat until Lovett arrived at Texas A&M University in 1975. The outlaw Texas music scene was in full throttle, fueled by renegade roots artists such as Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Jerry Jeff Walker, Michael Murphy, Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Kinky Friedman, Willis Alan Ramsey, Steven Fromholz and others. Lovett was fascinated by the innovative blend of country, rock and blues, and often joined artists in informal, front-porch guitar pulls where he honed his musicianship. As a journalism student, he wrote about the local music scene for the college paper. He also was indoctrinated in the local music scene by serving as a booking agent for the student coffeehouse, and as a student, he traveled to Europe where he toured and performed in small clubs.
After releasing three critically acclaimed albums under the direction of Curb/ MCA Nashville -- Lyle Lovett (1986), Pontiac (1987) and And His Large Band (1989), Lovett moved away from country to explore broader styles. Gold-certified Joshua Judges Ruth (1992), his most successful album to date, is steeped in gospel and R&B. I Love Everybody (1994) featured songs he had written as early as the 1970’s, while 1996’s gold-certified and Grammy-winning The Road to Ensenada returned him to a mix of western swing, honky tonk, country and folk. The 1998, two-disc CD Step Inside This House was a tribute to Lovett’s early Texas songwriting influences. That was followed with Lovett’s first live album, Live in Texas in 1999. In 2000, Lovett released the film soundtrack to Robert Altman’s Dr. T. & The Women.
By the millennium, Lovett had become known for acting as well. It began in 1991 when director Robert Altman cast the singer as detective DeLongpre in the film The Player. With his distinctive looks and deadpan delivery style, Lovett was perfect for Altman’s stable of eccentric and recurring actors. He has teamed with the director four more times: in Short Cuts (1993), Ready to Wear (1995), Cookie’s Fortune (1999) and as music composer for Dr. T. & The Women (2000). Outside the Altman camp, Lovett was cast as a protective uncle in the Anjelica Huston-directed Bastard out of Carolina (1996). In 1998, Lovett played the romantic interest to Lisa Kudrow in the witty, controversial comedy The Opposite of Sex. Lovett made a cameo appearance in 1998’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and will appear in the November 2001 release The New Guy.