Monday, September 10, 2007

COM: Lyle!

LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - Almost 21 years after he released his first album, Lyle Lovett has scored personal bests on both the Billboard 200 and Top Country Albums charts.

"It's Not Big It's Large" entered the Billboard 200 at No. 18 with sales of 25,000 copies in the week ended September 2, according to Nielsen SoundScan data.

The previous best for the 49-year-old Texan singer/songwriter was "The Road to Ensenada," which opened at No. 24 in 1996, albeit with more than 43,000 copies. (The overall music industry has slumped in that time.)

On the country chart, "It's Not Big" opened at No. 2, surpassing the No. 4 start for "Ensenada." The Curb/Lost Highway release is Lovett's first album on this chart since "My Baby Don't Tolerate" reached No. 7 in 2003. His self-titled 1986 debut peaked at No. 14 the following year.

Large and in charge
Lyle Lovett: It's Not Big It's Large
By JOEY GUERRA, Houston Chronicle, Aug. 27, 2007, 3:22PM

A Lyle Lovett record feels like an old friend. Even if you've never heard it, the tunes are warm and full of familiar emotions.

It's Not Big It's Large, in stores today, sticks to that well-worn, still-solid formula. The Houston-born crooner has assembled a moving collection of memories and musings on life. They're like musical keepsakes from his remarkable life.

Instrumental kickoff Tickle Toe sets a reliably snappy tone via a blast of horns and fiddles. But the mood quickly shifts to something deeper and often darker.

Mournful gospel chant I Will Rise Up soars on a swelling chorus of hard-luck voices. It has an ominous, unsettling tone punctuated by twinges of rock guitar.

That tune also incorporates the traditional Ain't No More Cane, which Lovett reprises later in the disc, to glorious effect.

The tall Texan has gathered an impressively tasteful array of collaborators, including Viktor Krauss (bass), Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Sam Bush (mandolin), Jerry Douglas (dobro), Bela Fleck (banjo) and Jon Randall (guitar and vocals).

Even with so many players (including Lovett's own Large Band) there's nary a wasted moment on the disc. It's a taut, focused collection.

South Texas Girl features Texas icon Guy Clark crooning a sweet intro and outro. It dances along a wistful, waltzlike arrangement as Lovett recalls memories of his Lone Star childhood. In the overstylized hands of a current country heartthrob, it would be a huge radio hit.

Lovett injects a few tunes — No Big Deal, All Downhill — with his trademark wry humor. All Downhill is a jovial country tune highlighted by expert string work. Fiddle, mandolin and guitars commingle with ease.

Don't Cry a Tear is a lump-in-throat standout, hooked on Lovett's aching delivery. It's a hushed, meditative moment on mortality that's difficult to listen to, even after several plays.

This Travelin' Around is a beautifully arranged lover's lament, with Lovett repeating the song's pivotal lyric ("This travelin' around/It's gonna be the death of me") to drive home the point.

Much of the record's pace is slow and steady. But things pick up during Up in Indiana, which rides an irresistible, knee-slapping groove. Think of it as a kinder, gentler cousin to Garth Brooks' Ain't Goin' Down ('Til the Sun Comes Up). The song also is included in a fine pickin'-and-grinnin' acoustic rendition.

Make it Happy is an equally engaging — albeit smoother and even sillier — band romp. You can almost see the backup singers' smiling faces amid the bubbling instrumentation.

Lovett says he wrote The Alley Song in 1979, but it rings with immediacy. The details are as rich and evocative as any of the Robert Altman flicks on Lovett's acting résumé. ("When you know you're not the best / You hope no one can tell.")

It's Not Big It's Large is the sound of an artist comfortable, confident in his musical skin. It not only charms, it captivates.

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