Lyle Lovett Succeeds Outside Country's Boundaries

Lyle Lovett press photo
Michael Wilson
It's hard to figure out exactly what to make of modern country's flirtations with genres outside Nashville's rustic confines. Taylor Swift's Red incorporated an (ever-so-slight) dubstep wobble into her pop-country frame. The Zac Brown Band is covering Metallica live. Former Hootie and the Blowfish frontman Darius Rucker gets as much mileage out of his old alt-bro hits as he does his new country ones. "Accidental Racist," Brad Paisley's blundering buddy-cop outing with LL Cool J, is an unavoidable trainwreck, and will undoubtedly go down as one of 2013's worst hick-hop singles in a year when that designation isn't a rarity or outlier at all.

In light of such general weirdness, it's tempting to suggest building a "dang fence" to keep the "real country" safe from its mutant offspring. But that would put someone like Lyle Lovett out of a job, and considering the care and craft he's exhibited for more than three decades, that would be a shame.

Lyle Lovett is scheduled to perform at Mesa Arts Center on Thursday, August 15

Lovett's latest, 2012's Release Me, is every bit the mutt those other guys' albums are, grafting branches of jazz, blues, swing, and folk into Lovett's country and western tree, but it's a sly, quiet union -- not the boisterous combination of current CMT stars, but a nuanced blending of sounds. Like Willie before him, Lyle knows how to swing, and he makes it seem effortless.

Emerging from a wave of country outsiders (you could call it alt-country if you really wanted to) that included Rodney Crowell, Joe Ely, Gary Clark, and Townes Van Zandt, Lovett found mainstream success in the mid-'80s, backed by members of Phoenix band J. David Sloan and the Rogues. Release Me finds him as consistent a storyteller as his self-titled debut.

See "White Boy Lost in the Blues," for a glimpse into the man's self-deprecating humor. "You bought you a six-string, you bought you a great big amp," he sings, the song's character not quite succeeding at singing "like Muddy Waters."

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