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Joshua Judges Ruth
It's getting deafeningly obvious that "Country" is rapidly becoming a meaningless term as kd lang turns into a cosmopolitan chanteuse and now Lyle Lovett strays further from cartoon redneck roots.
Bill Graham, 23 Apr 1992
It's getting deafeningly obvious that "Country" is rapidly becoming a meaningless term as kd lang turns into a cosmopolitan chanteuse and now Lyle Lovett strays further from cartoon redneck roots. On Joshua Judges Ruth, only one track, the tremulously pretty ballad 'She's Leaving Me Because She Really Wants To', gives a leading role to the steel guitar.
Otherwise, though the album flirts with gospel and discreet rock'n'roll, the main thread in its tapestry is Lovett's love for the jazzy and urbane West Coast Grant and Percy Mayfield. As the South and Texas have become more complicated and sophisticated societies, they've found a need for their own torch singers who continually question and evade the old verities.
Without doubt, this is Lovett's most mature and considered album. Some take his characteristic detachment and control as evidence of cold-bloodedness but his best tunes have a wry tension with a sense of foreboding, frequently lurking beneath the surface. Indeed, one song actually puns on his own 'Family Reserve' and Lovett's one of the few writers who unsentimentally takes the families ties that bind ('Since The Time') all the way to the funeral, where Lovett observes, "Lord, it made me happy, seeing all those people, I ain't seen since the last time somebody died'.
He's not quite Randy Newman but there's definitely an ambivalent twist to his own Texan stiff upper lip. He's also a specialist in songs about transient relationships where his reticence actually increases the pain on a gem like 'She's Already Made Up Her Mind. It's as if he knows the best songs always home in on acknowledged targets from the most oblique angles.
But again, it's what he leaves out that counts. Both 'North Dakota' and 'Baltimore' are impressionistic with a haunting enigmatic power, akin to classic folk songs. It may not be Bruce Springsteen but these days, Lyle Lovett, whose mordant vision of America is far more unpredictable and true.