Saturday, November 21, 2009

MSC: Polly's Back in Town!

Reviews of the new album:

Lyle Lovett
Natural Forces
(Lost Highway)

Jim Beal, Jr.,
San Antonio Express-News

Lyle Lovett is an excellent judge of songwriting, a knowledgeable fan and a smart performing wordsmith who knows what works for him and for his fans.

On Natural Forces, his 14th release since '86, Lovett mixes covers — four by guys who were influential on the Houston folk scene of the '70s and early '80s, Townes Van Zandt, Don Sanders, Vince Bell and Eric Taylor — with originals, including one written with Robert Earl Keen and one with longtime girlfriend April Kimble.

Lovett lets his wry, sometimes overt, sometimes subtle, sense of humor mingle with thoughtfulness and sentimentality. Pantry, written with Kimble, and Farmer Brown/Chicken Reel are funny. The title track, and its "home is where my horse is" chorus, is poignant. In between, Lovett and his music-making aces strike the unclassifiable Lyle Lovett balance, natural and not forced.

By Stormy Lewis
Last Updated: October 28, 2009 12:10 PM

With Natural Forces, Lyle Lovett breathes new life in the western swing/jazz fusion that has held him in good stead for years. The heart of his music is still poetic songs about everyday people which match his dry voice with elegantly lush arrangements. However, Lyle draws back some on the gospel and blues influences which have infused his music lately and returns to the simpler, more country ballads that were a hallmark of his 90’s work The result is a stirring and vibrant reminder of why Lyle Lovett stands out in a large crowd of legendary Teas singers.

Natural Forces opens with the Lovett penned title track, in which he laments “I am subject to natural forces/my home is where my horse is.” It is a fitting and proper warning that Lovett is taking us on a trip through a variety of Texas songwriters, including him. Purists may decry the lack of original material, but the covers are good hands with Lovett. His rendition of Townes Van Zandt’s Loretta is simply stunning. Only “Its Rock and Roll,” which Lovett himself wrote with Robert Earl Keen seems out of place, but it is still worth it if only for the line “The one you hate the most is the newest up and comer/and the one you love the most just ran off with your drummer.” However, he does save a few places on the album for that famous Texas songwriter Lyle Lovett and his “Empty Blue Shoes” is one of the best songs on the album. Lovett even includes a track co-penned by his girlfriend April Kimble, although the bonus track acoustic version of Pantry works better than the original.

Lyle Lovett’s music is as simple and appetizing as the down home cooking Texas he references. Natural Forces comes together like a good old fashioned family potluck. He blends together a perfect mixture of traditional and new ingredients and invites a group of friends over for an unforgettable event.

By Jewly Hight, The 9513

On paper, an album that leads with four original songs—two of those hot in groove and content—then enters a long stretch of languid, story-centric covers, before wrapping up with an all-out rock and roll cut and a string-band reprisal of one of those earlier bawdy numbers might come off as a tad fragmented. Whose album it is makes all the difference in the world. And it happens to be Lyle Lovett’s, the embodiment of Texas musical breadth; the man who has, throughout his 24-year recording career—briefly begun in the progressive ‘80s country mainstream, but mostly spent out by the country/Americana border—dared to treat singer-songwriter folk, jump blues, western swing, honky tonk and gospel all as suitable building blocks for a body of work. Needless to say, Natural Forces makes good sense coming from him.

That famed Large Band of Lovett’s, referenced in the titles of no less than two of his albums, is not so large here. Gone is the bright, jazzy coloring the horns and gospely backing choir contributed to 2007’s It’s Not Big It’s Large. His new album is, for the most part, a sparer, more acoustic-based affair befitting the earthiness of both the material and the way he delivers it. Subtly, very subtly, he draws together the elements of his oeuvre, reminding us what elaborate introspective storytelling and singing the blues can have to do with each other. That point isn’t made terribly often—not convincingly, at least—in any sector of contemporary country.

The churning country-blues title track opens the set with a confession of restlessness rife with Texas (and generally southwestern) imagery, natural and man-made. Then Lovett turns to natural forces of a slightly different sort. He’s often written with prodigious wit, but “Farmer Brown/Chicken Reel” (for some reason—tracklist G-ratedness or the element of surprise—he opted not to use the lyric hook, “choke my chicken,” as the title) and “Pantry” are among his finest achievements in the double entendre arena. “Farmer Brown” swings hard, with Lovett and the drums, then Lovett and an enthusiastic chorus (made up of the musicians on the session) locked in an energetic call-and-response, invoking chicken-choking of both the barnyard and human male varieties. “Pantry” is the very next track. It’s a rollicking, steel-laced two-beat, and a plea for sexual and downhome culinary fidelity: “Keep it in your pantry.”

Once those two are out of the way, followed by a wistful ballad from Lovett’s pen titled “Empty Blue Shoes,” it’s almost all songs by Texans who aren’t him from there on out. New and original Lovett material is a welcomed thing; but in the case of a shortage, he knows how to select sturdy songs that feel natural for him to sing. A few of the songwriters he drew on for his 1998 two-disc covers album Step Inside This House pop up here as well. Townes Van Zandt’s an obvious choice. Eric Taylor and Vince Bell, not so much, although Taylor’s “Whooping Crane,” a yearning, finger-picking folk number that rather poetically captures a sense of environmental and spiritual loss, and Bell’s introspective “Sun and Moon and Stars,” which balances stubbornness and regret, are a couple of fine moments. So is David Ball’s “Don’t You Think I Feel It Too,” a willowy Texas waltz that plumbs the sadness on both sides of ebbing love.

These songs are all about evocative lyrics; their melodies and chord movements are understated, though pleasing, support. But Lovett sings them sensually, a little more sensually, it seems, than he has some songs of that ilk in the past. He sounds familiar enough with the material to relax and feel, rather than focus on, the words; to bring a bodily aspect of what he does—singing like a sly, blues-shaded devil—to that other, more confessional form of expression. Natural Forces probably won’t replace Lovett’s early triumphs—Pontiac, for one—as a career-defining recording, but it’s plenty satisfying.

By Corey DuBrowa, Paste Magazine
Tall-haired Texan delivers his best album in more than a decade

Lyle Lovett is the ultimate AAA artist in a ten-gallon hat: Not quite country, not exactly blues, and definitely not jazz (though he’s sympathetic to the tradition), Lovett has coupled his witty wordplay with an eclectic grab bag of musical adornment throughout his nearly quarter-century career. But it hasn’t often been as compelling as on his 11th long player, Natural Forces (which, on the title track, rhymes with “home is where my horse is”). Essentially the third chapter of the country-centric trilogy he’s been unspooling since 1996’s The Road to Ensenada and 2003’s My Baby Don’t Tolerate, Lovett’s latest is an epic in the wide-open Texas tradition, featuring four original songs (“Natural Forces” and “Empty Blue Shoes” ranking among the finest he’s written) and another seven from various Texas songwriters, including Lovett’s heroes Townes Van Zandt and Robert Earl Keen (who co-wrote “It’s Rock and Roll,” the gritty, uptempo, album closer). Far more than just a curator and tasteful interpreter of others’ material, Lovett once again proves he can stand alongside the finest storytellers.

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