Thursday, April 15, 2010

Thursday Reverb

I promised I'd tell you the story of How I Learned to Love Lyle Lovett. Here's most of it, to which I will add that after this show I hung around the stage door -- in waist-high snowfall, mind you -- to say hi to John Hiatt. But John had already left for his hotel; the only one of the four songwriters who came out for the meet and greet was Lyle Lovett, who stood chatting pleasantly -- snow soaking into his cowboy boots -- for at least half an hour. I was already smitten with him from the show; standing there in the snow that night, he completely melted my heart.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

"Nobody Knows Me" / Lyle Lovett

Growing up in Indianapolis, I was hard-wired to hate country music -- it seemed all HeeHaw and Midwestern Hayride to me, strictly Not The Thing My People Listen To. Between that, and his extra-terrestrial appearances in Robert Altman films (not to mention that inexplicable marriage to Julia Roberts), Lyle Lovett had no chance of getting onto my playlist. But then I saw him live, doing an accoustic songwriter show with John Hiatt and Guy Clark and Joe Ely, and whoo boy, the scales fell from my eyes.

For one thing, I realized Lyle Lovett is NOT a country artist. He is a Western singer, and unapologetically so. Sure, there's folk in there, and blues, and tent-revival gospel, and dance-hall swing -- all Good Stuff. What he doesn't have are those corny cliches, reactionary pieties, and trumped-up drawls that ruin country music for me; apparently he has spent his entire career, 20-some years now, tactfully bucking the country-music stereotype and inventing his own genre.

In this particular song, for example, as he spins a description of a lazy weekend morning -- "I like cream in my coffee, I like to sleep late on Sundays...I like eggs over easy, with a flour tortilla" -- I just have to picture it in Texas, from that acoustic guitar, the tinny piano, the wheeze underneath that could be a cello but could just as easily be a squeeze-box -- and yet the folky tenderness of it, the jazz-like counterpoint, you'd never expect on a country-music station. And of course I want to be waking up in that sun-drenched house, smelling that coffee, frying those eggs for this man.

Surprise No. 2: That unhurried, mellow voice of his is a much more marvelous instrument than I'd expected; as effortless as his singing seemed, he overpowered those other three guys on the stage that night. In this song, on the repeated line "Nobody knows me like my baby," I love the way his voice soars hopefully on the long o's of "nobody" and "knows", gives a protective flutter over "like my," then cracks wistfully on "my baby." I don't really care whether he's thought this all out or just intuited how to deliver the song; it's just about perfect.

Revelation Three: Lyle Lovett in person is one of the most magnetic individuals I've ever seen. His odd, off-kilter manner simply reads as shyness, reinforced by a refreshing politeness -- gentlemanly to a fault. The long square jaw, the deep grooves either side of his mouth, the taut watchful eyes, even that improbable mass of curly hair on top his head -- in a photo he looks straight out of one of those James Agee WPA photos, but in person he is dead sexy. Just take my word for it.

So this has become The Thing I Listen To now; I play these songs over and over again. I like having Lyle Lovett in my head...I like it A LOT.


The Modesto Kid said...

Growing up in central-valley California was a similar thing in a way, Country/Western was for adolescent me this big set of hideous clich├ęs that I did not want to be associated with... When I moved to New York City (early 90's) I was mildly taken aback to find out that the hipsters were listening to Country; but I did not really follow up on that. It wasn't really until the late 90's when I found out about Ernie Tubb, that I realized music could be called Country and still be great. And it's funny, I'm so far removed from my childhood now that it comes as a real surprise when I hear bad Country music -- I've sort of forgotten what bad Country music sounds like...

NickS said...

I have been meaning to mention, since you left the comment on my blog about Lyle, that I read the original of this post recently.

After your post about Crazy Heart I read all of your posts tagged "country"

I can easily believe that Lyle Lovett would be a charismatic performer.

NickS said...

Listening to it now, his voice reminds me of the sound of early, jazzy, Tom Waits. For example, "The Heart Of Saturday Night."

In fact, I just started playing the Lovett and Waits in separate windows and I can say that it makes a surprisingly nice duet. Lyle Lovett's voice has more depth, and a touch of twang, but they go well together.

Holly A Hughes said...

A Lovett-Waits duet is a surprisingly good idea! Years ago I would have said their sensibilities were way too different, but now I don't think so.

Hipster said...

I really didn't give Lyle a chance until "Joshua Judges Ruth." The biblical play on words intrigued me, so I bought the thing and loved it! He's brilliant! My hipster buds were like, "that country guy?" I'm not pushy and I don't feel like explaining it to death, so I just say, "yeah, he's cool."
Contemporary country has no use for "western" on its stations, so talents like Lyle's are sought out by peeps like us.
BTW, Hiatt usually does those meet and greets after his shows, but the last couple of times he's seemed very tired. I have quite a few photos with him, and at one show in NH, a bunch of us were hanging with The Goners before the show. They're fun!

Holly A Hughes said...

Yeah, I have accomplished the meet-and-greet with John since then. A lovely man, indeed. I can totally see why he and Lyle enjoy working together. I'd love to be a fly on their dressing room wall!

wwolfe said...

I for some reason got the mistaken impression early on that Lovett was a pet of yuppies who viewed him as a sign they were cooler than the rest of us plebes. Then I saw him on "Austin City Limits," and the moment he sang "Creeps Like Me" I became a fan. What a song. Your choice here is another fave, too - an expression of contentment, rather than the self-disgust of "Creeps," which is evidence of the emotional range Lovett can cover. Which means that voice is no gimmick, as one might assume at first listen.

Holly A Hughes said...

Agreed. Maybe you have to hear the voice live to realize what an instrument he has -- no studio gimmicks there.