"Release Me," Lyle Lovett (Lost Highway/Curb)
Lyle Lovett has always been a class act.
From his first album in 1986, Lovett has created songs filled with the kind of heart and humor that only a master songwriter can combine. His music ignores genres, jumping happily from hard country to jazz, R&B and classic pop.
He didn't tour with a big band, he toured with his "Large Band," a snappily-dressed crew who could pull off anything that a song required.
Lovett's new album, "Release Me," marks his last for Curb Records after nearly three decades with the label.
It's an odd collection of songs, most of which are cover songs Lovett sang in concert before recording his first album.
The title cut is the classic written in the late 1940s, but best known in versions by Ray Price, Kitty Wells and Elgelbert Humperdinck.
For his take, Lovett enlists k.d. lang for a pretty hard country duet. It's a wonder that the two (whose careers have followed similar paths over the years) haven't worked together more often.
Much of the album seems like the chance to work with some favorite artists. Lovett trades lines with Kat Edmonson on "Baby, It's Cold Outside" and Sara Watkins (formerly of Nickel Creek) on the tragic "Dress of Laces" and the Lovett original "Night's Lullaby."
"White Boy Lost in the Blues" features Arnold McCuller and elsewhere Lovett brings Sweet Pea Atkinson and Harry Bowens — veterans of Lovett's Large Band and Was (Not Was) — back into the fold.
Sometimes when an artist is wrapping up a recording contract you can almost hear the "let's-get-this-over-with" in the recordings. However, throughout "Release Me" is the feeling of an artist making a statement. It's not unlike Lovett's two-disc 1998 album "Step Inside This House," which featured covers of songs by Lovett's favorite writers and musical mentors. Nothing seems half-hearted.
Lovett's cover of Eric Taylor's "Understand You" is one of his best performances of a love song and the "Dress of Laces" is a quiet knockout.
There's no surprise that Townes Van Zandt's "White Freightliner Blues" is a spirited workout featuring longtime sideman Stuart Duncan on fiddle and Lovett's buddies trading verses.
Lovett ends it all with the Lutheran hymn "Keep Us Steadfast."
The only disappointment is that there are only two previously-unheard Lovett originals, and Lovett is one of those few artists whose new works are as anticipated as his older music is beloved.
Hopefully, there will be plenty more to come.
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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