Release Me by Lyle Lovett


My obsession with The Beatles reached a peak in 1967, when I was 12 years old and bought the greatest single of all time: “Penny Lane”/”Strawberry Fields Forever”. Time magazine said that with this single, The Beatles had “bridged the heretofore impassable gap between rock and classical, mixing elements of Bach, Oriental and electronic music with vintage twang to achieve the most compellingly original sounds ever heard in pop music.” Exactly. It was held off the Number One position in the BBC Charts by one of the most ordinary, dull and banal singles ever made, “Release Me” by Gerry Dorsey (normally known as Englebert Humperdinck). It stayed at Number One for six weeks. I hated it. I hated him. The Charts in the Sixties were NOT full of groovy songs by hip bands.

I hated the song. That is, until Roo and I were in New England in 2012, driving up and down Highway 128, looking for a “Stop And Shop” and, instead, found a record shop where we cam across an album we’d never heard of, called “Release Me” by Lyle Lovett. It soon went onto the car stereo and I was horrified to discover that he had made a cover version of the world’s worst song. It was written by Eddie Miller and Robert Yount, two American country singer songwriters from the Fifties and I have to admit that it is a very good song, with a great melody. Mind you, anything sung by Lyle Lovett sounds good. Even the world’s worst song sounds good when sung by the country singer with the best voice.

When Lyle Lovett was reminded that he owed his record company one more album to fulfil his contract, he decided to record an album of covers and title it “Release Me”, in order to make it clear that this was a contractual obligation album. The first time that Paddy and I saw Lyle Lovett, he was supported by kd lang, who had just released an album called “Angel With A Lariat”. On the cover of “Release Me”, Lyle Lovett is shown tied up with a lariat.

Despite this being an album that sounds as if it was made under duress, it’s actually very good. One of the best songs here is “Dress of Laces”, written by John Grimaudo and Saylor White. The song tells the tale of a sailor’s daughter whose longing for her absent father leads her to murder. Lovett’s characteristic acoustic plucking accompanies dreamy lines like, “And she has a need for sharin’/For someone warm and carin’/And no one sees a heart that’s underfed”. As with all Lyle Lovett performances, it’s easy to believe that he has actually experienced all the longing and neglect that he is singing about. By the time Nickel Creek’s Sara Watkins joins him on the soaring harmonies of the first chorus, the poor daughter’s story is already overwhelmingly sad. The song was covered by Nanci Griffith on her lovely album, “Other Voices Too – A Trip Back To Bountiful”.

Not every song is full of sadness. Jesse Winchester’s “Isn’t That So” allows Lyle Lovett to sing with bluster and pride and the musicians (including the ubiquitous Russ Kunkel on drums and Stuart Duncan on fiddle) show their rock credentials, with trumpet, trombone, and saxophones that both accentuate and propel the song.

“White Freightliner Blues” is a heavily covered Townes Van Zandt song. The speed that Lyle Lovett’s band takes the song is extraordinary and Stuart Duncan, who is a genius fiddle player, lays down a storming solo.

Chuck Berry’s “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” is slowed down to a mournful crawl.

Lyle Lovett is an inventive songwriter and he wrote two songs for the album. “Night’s Lullaby” is extremely moving. As he watches his daughter asleep in her mother’s arms, his heart is filled with love and the timbre of his voice allows all his feelings. The album closer is Martin Luther’s reformation hymn, “Keep Us Steadfast”. (Although the full title is “Keep Us Steadfast: A Children’s Hymn, to be Sung Against the Two Archenemies of Christ and His Holy Church, the Pope and Turk”).

Lyle Lovett, with the aid of his band, has followed an interesting career, alternating between making albums (this was his 11th album – his twelfth has just been released), and using his startling looks to appear in films such as “Short Cuts”, “The Open Road” and “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas”. His music has always combined elements of country, folk, jazz, and the blues but it is his transcendent voice that, as Matt Melis writes on the Consequence website, “can capture the cool grit of an outlaw on one song and reflect the frailty of a wounded lover the next.” 

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

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