The most satisfying record he’s made in many a year.
Jon Lusk 2009-10-12
Always more than a straight-ahead country artist, Lyle Lovett has also dabbled in gospel, jazz, folk, rock, pop and even acting. After the big band sound of 2007’s It’s Not Big It’s Large, this new record mostly returns him to relatively stripped-down country settings, on a well-judged mix of originals and covers. It’s the most satisfying record he’s made in many a year.
It’s a great irony that country songs don’t often deal with ‘the country’ itself, stereotypically being largely concerned with cheatin’, drinkin’ and ‘exes’ that live in Texas. But as its name suggests, Natural Forces is replete with images of the natural world, as well as plenty of artful song writing. Including one cheatin’ song. Which they do twice.
Shot through with a yearning to escape the city, the title track evokes the American landscape in a way that recalls Nanci Griffith’s take on Across the Great Divide. After the throwaway humour of the hoedown Farmer Brown/Chicken Reel and the upbeat Pantry, which uses food as extended metaphor for fidelity, there’s a long and often pastoral sequence of slower songs. The most striking of these is Eric Taylor’s majestic Whooping Crane, with its recurring image of an endangered bird as a poignant elegy for a lost America. Then there’s a waltzing rendition of Don Sanders’ evocative Bayou Song: “Following ‘coon tracks / To the edge of a sandbar / The shell of a clam”.
Other highlights include a warm, affectionate version of Townes van Zandt’s Loretta and the hilarious, razor-sharp observations of It’s Rock and Roll, a rumbustious co-write with fellow Texan Robert Earle Keen, which obviously draws heavily on experience.
Lovett’s band isn’t so large this time around, but features long-term collaborators Matt Rollings (piano), Viktor Krauss (bass), Sam Bush (mandolin), Stuart Duncan (fiddle) and Paul Franklin (steel guitar). The latter two work in gorgeous, melancholic tandem on several songs, most notably the slow waltz of Don’t You Think I Feel It Too. Lovett masterfully disguises his own obvious vocal limitations with a trademark quivering vibrato and little groans throughout. Natural Forces is a treat from start to finish.