February 06, 1989 12:00 PM

Lyle Lovett

Thanks, Lyle, we needed this. That’s true, at least, of anyone who has harbored suspicions that if the spirit moved him, Lovett could be a terrific swing-band blues singer. It apparently has, and he clearly is. Half of this album is devoted to tunes that could have come off a rediscovered ’30s or ’40s session by a Kansas City band. That side pointedly begins with an instrumental, The Blues Walk, by the ’50s jazz trumpet prodigy Clifford Brown. Lovett also takes his basic, laconic-wry country style and overlays it on quietly swinging arrangements of original tunes such as I Know You Know: “Tell me something that you mean/ Not just what comes to mind.” Backup singer Francine Reed jolts the blues quotient up a notch on three tracks, particularly a dialogue duet with Lovett on a combination of the standard The Glory of Love and his own What Do You Do. If this half of the album is an experiment, it’s a rousing success. The other half is only country music, but it’s some “only.” Lovett does his peculiarly affecting version of the Tammy Wynette tearjerker, Stand by Your Man, turning it into a plea rather than an admonition. He also sings five original tunes, including I Married Her Because She Looks Just Like you and Once Is Enough. Lovett’s melodies don’t always withstand analysis, since they often tend to recycle basic blues riffs in various ways. This, however, is a little like saying Michael Jordan doesn’t do much but shoot baskets. Lovett’s lyrics are marvels of understatement, never merely cute and often more than clever. In If You Were to Wake Up, for instance, he efficiently sums up a relationship: “There was a time dear/That once you did love me/And there was a time/You loved me no more.” And in Once Is Enough, after singing about how he has finally reconciled himself to the philosophy of the title, he has to add, “But a man he can’t help but learn his lesson/ But a man he can’t help the stars above/And a man can’t help but go around messing/With once is enough.” (MCA)

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