The new album Step Inside This House has Lyle Lovett singing a love song to his home state of Texas, or at least to many of the Lone Star State's finest songwriters. A two-CD set of cover versions of songs by many well-known and not-so-well-known iconoclastic songsmiths from that musically rich land--among them Michael Martin Murphey, Walter Hyatt, Guy Clark and the late Townes Van Zandt--is just the latest gem in a terrifically strong body of work from Lovett, who is one of Texas' most interesting writers and performers of the past 10 years.
Lovett is one of those celebrities better known as a personality than as a musician. His unique look--not unlike Abraham Lincoln wearing Seinfeld's Kramer's haircut--his side career as an actor in indie films and especially his brief bout of tabloid notoriety, because of a short-lived marriage to Julia Roberts, are far better known than his music. Yet since his 1986 self-titled debut LP, Lovett has built a unique musical niche for himself.
Though he was originally pegged as a country performer, it was clear early on that such labels weren't going to work for his music, which gleefully employs elements of rock, blues, country, Western swing and even big-band jazz. At a memorable Desert Sky Pavilion show here a few years back, Lovett opened the set with a Grateful Dead tune as a tribute to the recently deceased Jerry Garcia and proceeded to include some gospel and R&B before the night was through. Musical boundaries just don't faze him.
Like Lovett's far-flung musical influences, his lyrics keep him apart from the mainstream. He has an unusually twisted way with a phrase. His humor can range from biting to head-scratchingly absurd, as in the 1994 ditty "Penguins," about how the singer doesn't go for fancy cars, movie stars, diamond rings or money. He "just goes for penguins," because "penguins are so sensitive to my needs." This is sung in his most sincere delivery with a gospel quartet in tow. It's one of the truly great odd moments on record, and it's odder still to see this impeccably dressed gentleman giving heartfelt voice to these lyrics.
Lyle Lovett is scheduled to perform at 8 p.m. Friday, October 16, at Union Hall, Sixth Street and Van Buren. Tickets are $28.85 in advance, $31 the day of the show. 253-7100 (UH), 503-5555 (Dillard's).