“He’s so…asymmetrical.” This was how a friend of mine once described his introduction to Lyle Lovett. My first introduction to Lyle was through the tabloids wondering how he managed to marry Julia Roberts. Then one day rummaging through the old Davis Kidd Bookstore in Green Hills, Tennessee, I found The Road to Ensenada in one of the listening stations. So I listened. I had no idea, honestly, what to expect.
It was asymmetrical–a little off balance, but with the kind of skill so that you knew he was not only doing it on purpose, but that he could also do it all day long. Track 1, “Don’t Touch My Hat”, is about a guy who stole his girl and his hat, and he wants his hat back. Incidentally, it is the only song I can think of that manages to incorporate hat size in a meaningful way: “If you plead not guilty, I’ll be the judge/ We don’t need no jury to decide because/ I wear a seven and you’re out of order/ ‘Cause I can tell from here you’re a seven and a quarter.” As I stood there in the book store, I had to go back and hear that again. Did he really say…?
Half a song in, I grabbed a copy and bought it, thinking I was getting my hands on something witty.
And I was, but as I listened, and then got more of his work, I realized not only that he was witty, he was also brooding, and whimsical, and serious…and very strange to look at. And the quality of his work is top shelf. I’ve described him as being to country music what Sting is to pop music–in there when he wants to be, but obviously capable of way more depth and substance than what you typically find on the radio.
It hard to review just one Lyle Lovett record because they all seem to have a personality of their own, and Lyle achieves something very difficult–he can own whatever he records, whether he wrote it or not. One minute he’s folk, another straight up country. Then he’s gospel, then big band. Then American classic, then Latin. But he owns it all in such a convincing way that you never feel like he’s losing himself in this variety. It’s like some combination of all these IS his style. Asymmetrical.
So since I want to limit this to just one disc, I’m going with the one that introduced me to Lyle, and served as, I think, the best preparation for whatever else you get your hands on by him.
Oh, and one more thing. Lyle put a hidden track on this disc before hidden tracks were cool. And its not a throwaway song either. Free stuff!
Russ Ramsey is the pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church Cool Springs in Nashville, Tennessee, where he lives with his wife and four children. He grew up in the fields of Indiana and studied at Taylor University and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv, ThM). Russ is the author of the Retelling the Story Series (IVP, 2018) and Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017).