American country singer, guitarist, and songwriter Lovett is an influential force on the songwriting scene, with his assortment of humorous, quirky, cynical songs and heartfelt, sensitive ballads. His musical range extends far beyond a country band setting, incorporating big band jazz, soul, and gospel elements.
Born: November 1, 1957; Klein, Texas
Bernell and William Pearce Lovett welcomed their only child, Lyle Pearce Lovett (LUH-veht), into theworld on November 1, 1957. He grew up on his family’s farm in Klein, Texas, a town founded by German immigrant Adam Klein, Lovett’s greatgrandfather. After spending most of his childhood on the farm, Lovett graduated from high school and began his postsecondary studies at Texas A&M University. He completed his academic career with degrees in German and journalism, having spent time studying abroad in Rothenberg, Germany. During college Lovett began singing and writing songs, and when his early demo recordings wound up in the hands of MCA executive Tony Brown, Lovett was soon signed to MCA Records in 1984. In 1993 Lovett made national headlines by announcing his marriage to actress Julia Roberts. The marriage was fairly short-lived, however, and the two divorced in 1995. In addition to his musical career, Lovett has acted in many films, including The Player (1992) and Short Cuts (1993), both directed by Robert Altman.
The Music Lyle Lovett. Lovett’s self-titled debut album is a country record that foreshadows the increase in genre-borrowing that would mark many of his subsequent releases. Such tunes as “This Old Porch” and the popular “Closing Time” represent the straightforward, well-crafted country style, while “Cowboy Man” and “God Will” represent the humorous, unpredictable songwriting that provides Lovett with his eccentric reputation. The album was produced by Brown and featured many Nashville session musicians providing a solid foundation, with backing vocals from Rosanne Cash and guitar and backing vocals from Vince Gill. Pontiac. Pontiac picked up where Lyle Lovett left off, though more heavily influenced by blues and jazz, again balancing well-crafted country songs (“If I Had a Boat,” “L.A. County”) with quirky jazzblues selections (“She’s No Lady,” “M-O-N-E-Y”). Most reviews of Pontiac labeled it an improvement over Lovett’s debut, a musically shifting yet thematically cohesive set of songs that left critics desirous of upcoming material. Lovett absorbed this praise and nurtured his inclination to incorporate a wide array of musical influences into his country background. His career, however, would be marked by consistently high critical praise and the marketing uncertainty of whether Lovett should be presented as a country or pop artist. Lyle Lovett and His Large Band.
Lovett formed a big band for his third release, Lyle Lovett and His Large Band. From the opening notes of the Clifford Brown instrumental that begins the record (“The Blues Walk”), it is clear that Lovett had no intention of performing within the boundaries of a single musical genre. The first original Lovett tracks on the record – “Here I Am,” “Cryin’ Shame,” and “Good Intentions” – are all swinging numbers complete with brass hits and witty Lovett lyrics. The second half of the record is quite different in that it returns to a more country-influenced sound for such tunes as “I Married Her Just Because She Looks Like You” and “Nobody Knows Me.” Lovett’s career is one of musical risk-taking, and the formation of his Large Band was a critical and popular success. Joshua Judges Ruth. In pure Lovett fashion, Joshua Judges Ruth departed from both the jazz influence of Lyle Lovett and His Large Band and the country influence of Lyle Lovett. This release was a set of blues-gospel songs that included “I’ve Been to Memphis,” “Church,” and “She Makes Me Feel Good.” These blues tunes are contrasted with vocal-dominated ballads such as “Baltimore” and “North Dakota,” making for an album with less outward humor and stylistic variation. I Love Everybody. The next three releases – I Love Everybody, The Road to Ensenada, and Step Inside This House – all follow the Lovett path of dramatically changing paths with every record. I Love Everybody is a collection of previously written Lovett material, featuring the witty, unconventional country-influenced songwriting that was largely absent from Joshua Judges Ruth.
Songs most representative of this album’s style include “Skinny Legs,” “Fat Babies,” “Creeps Like Me,” and “Penguins.” The Road to Ensenada. The Road to Ensenada brought the return of Lovett’s traditional country influence that had not consistently been heard since his self-titled debut. The album is consistent from beginning to end, with standout tracks “Don’t Touch My Hat,” “Her First Mistake,” “That’s Right (You’re Not from Texas),” and “Private Conversation.” Step Inside This House. Step Inside This House is a collection of rare country covers that was surely a personal restatement of his dedication to country music (along with the country leanings of The Road to Ensenada). Artists whose work is covered on Step Inside This House include, among others, Townes VanZandt, Robert Earl Keen, and Steve Fromholz. Later Albums. Live in Texas and It’s Not Big It’s Large reunited the Large Band, with Live in Texas showcasing the talent of the Large Band members on a collection of Lovett’s greatest hits. Lovett’s stylistically diverse My Baby Don’t Tolerate features a combination of country, gospel, and jazz-blues songs rather than a concentration on one style. Lovett also composed, arranged, and performed on the sound track to Robert Altman’s film Dr T and the Women. Musical Legacy Lovett’s legacy falls in line with fellow songwriters Randy Newman and Tom Waits.
All three have penetrated into uncharted musical territories in creating settings for their exceptional lyrical talents. Lovett’s desire to incorporate many musical styles into his country-music upbringing (big band, gospel, folk, blues, rock) has made him an influential figure to all musicians who wish to cross musical boundary lines and take stylistic chances with their work. Lovett has won four Grammy Awards: Best Country Album in 1996 for The Road to Ensenada, Best Country Male Vocal in 1989 for Lyle Lovett and His Large Band, Best Country Performance for Duo-Group with Vocal in 1994 for Asleep at the Wheel’s Blues for Dixie, and Best Pop Vocal Collaboration in 1994 for “Funny How Time Slips Away,” a duet with soul legend Al Green.