Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness. Colossians 3:15

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Non-country fan rediscovers legend Lyle Lovett

Published in Cumberland Times-News Tuesday, June 17, 2014.

Sorting through my old LPs recently, I came upon Lyle Lovett’s Pontiac, copyrighted 1987. It’s probably one of the last albums I bought; my stereo died in the years shortly thereafter. I never replaced it, or my albums with CDs, figuring someday I might buy a record player, if it could sound good enough to do the recordings justice.

So I forgot about Lyle Lovett. I never heard him on the radio or saw him on TV, after the PBS program that spurred me to special order his album so many years ago.

I am not a country music fan, and so I was surprised to learn, as I probed the depths of YouTube, that Lyle Lovett is a country music legend. I never would have classified him country. Some sort of jazz, gospel, soul,bluegrass fusion, maybe: A folk-type unique.

That high-rise hair-do. The sharp-dresser suits. The stunning,chiseled good looks. Such an easy way on an acoustic guitar. Effortless precision. And the voice, shimmering, crystalline, gravely when right, always spot on.

I’ve listened to about all YouTube has to offer on the topic of Lyle Lovett, including a Diane Sawyer interview with his spouse of 21 months, Julia Roberts --who, Sawyer comments, said her heart stopped when he walked into a room.

Where was I in 1993? I don’t remember hearing of that marriage, broken, according to Internet reports, by career demands, though they reportedly remained friends. Roberts re-married in 2002; Lovett remains engaged (since 2003) to his former personal assistant, whom he apparently has known for16 years.

Mr. Lovett lives where his family always has, since immigrating from Germany in the 1840s, where he grew up, where his mother and her six siblings grew up, in the house his grandfather built in 1911, in a community called Klein (named for his mother’s father’s grandfather), outside Houston, in north Harris County, Texas. He is a lifelong member of Trinity Lutheran Church and attended the parish school through eighth grade. (His hometown minister helped with the ceremony when he and Roberts married in a Lutheran church in Indiana.)

In a Q TV interview, Mr. Lovett says that because he is “a make-it-up-as-you-go singer-songwriter,” as opposed to an in-demand studio musician, he has the freedom to live on the family ranch. He says his grandparents’ house is “just through the pasture,” next to his mom, who is his next-door neighbor (his dad died in 1999); his uncle is on the other side.

Never knowing what he wanted to do, Mr. Lovett says his career developed with people encouraging him at each step to go to the next. His first booking was a coffeehouse while a journalism and German student at Texas A&M.

He’s earned four Grammys, the Americana Music Association’s inaugural Trailblazer Award, been Texas’official musician, inducted into the Texas Songwriters’ Hall of Fame, and fulfilled his commitment to Curb Records, who signed him in 1985, with ReleaseMe in 2012.

Some of Mr. Lovett’s lyrics are “just silliness,” as he puts it, but all are poetry. His tunes are engaging and beautiful, but not memorable. I wish they were. I’d like to get a Lyle Lovett tune stuck in my head all day. As it is, I have to go to YouTube, and, well, that view is just fine.

The chiseled good looks are still there, refined with rugged lines and less-wild hair. He’s on tour now and will be at Wolf Trap on Aug. 22. That would be a show to see, even for a non-country fan like me.