Lyle Lovett: Going his own way has always been the right path

Lyle Lovett says he's been performing some of the cover songs on his new album, "Release Me," since the 1970s and he's working on new original numbers: "I'm trying to pretend that I'm alive enough to actually have something to say! It's hard to have an idea worthy of inflicting on people."

Lyle Lovett says he's been performing some of the cover songs on his new album, "Release Me," since the 1970s and he's working on new original numbers: "I'm trying to pretend that I'm alive enough to actually have something to say! It's hard to have an idea worthy of inflicting on people."

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Talking with Lyle Lovett on the phone in 2012 is little different than talking with him shortly after his career began. Even after a string of critically acclaimed albums, working with great film directors (most notably Robert Altman), a brief marriage to one of the most popular movie stars in the country (Julia Roberts) and becoming one of the most consistent touring artists in music, Lovett seems as natural and unaffected as when he was an young upstart in the young country movement of the mid-1980s.

"What's worked out well for me is that I've always gotten to be myself," says Lovett while traveling to his soundcheck at the Ram's Head in Annapolis, Md. "I've always gotten to play music that I liked. I've never had to do things that I don't like to do. I've never had to play any kind of show business persona that's not true to my own life and character. I couldn't be happier."

Lovett credits music business associates with making that possible, including Tony Brown, who headed MCA Nashville and first signed Lovett, and Paula Batson and Al Teller, who worked with Lovett when he seemed a better fit for the Los Angeles arm of the company and his publicist, Ken Weinstein.

"They let me be myself. To get to be yourself and be what you want it's kind of a good deal."

Lovett is currently on tour with a four-piece acoustic group promoting his recent album, "Release Me," the last album in a contract he signed more than 25 years ago.

"I used to joke early in my career that if you didn't like your record company all you had to do was stick around because in a few years it would be a completely different company anyway," he says.

That has certainly been true over the course of Lovett's career. Twice while recording an album he has gotten calls from record company presidents telling him they were being let go and that he was being moved to another subsidiary.

Lovett says he's still trying to decide how he'll release his future work.

"Actually, I'm grateful for the deal that I had with Universal and Curb, but since I signed my deal in 1985 the business has changed so much. I think it's important to move forward in a way that's modern and up to date, business-wise. Whatever I do, it won't be a record deal that lasts 25 years, not that those even exist anymore."

Touring has changed as well.

"It really comes down to what you can sustain with the length of the tour," says Lovett. "Economically, summertime is about the only time you can put together a tour with the Large Band, because you're able to play those outdoor shows."

Putting together a show that pleases everyone, he says, is impossible.

"If you can please anybody you're doing pretty well! I try to do what suits the group. I actually enjoy it when people holler requests. This group can pretty much handle anything."

He says it's always great to work with good musicians and on his recent album he was particularly happy to sing duets with k.d. lang (whom he's known and admired for years) and newcomer Kat Edmondson.

He's currently working on new songs for what will be his next album. Other than that, he isn't really looking for great new accomplishments.

"I'm really happy with all the things that I have done, and I just really want to be able to write a good song. That's still my main focus is to be able to write the next song that I think is good enough to play for people. I don't want for anything. I couldn't be happier with my career and my life. Really what's important to me is to continue doing work that's of value to be worth demanding someone's time."

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Lyle Lovett

With: Lilly Hiatt

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Tennessee Theatre

Tickets: $56, $41, available at Knoxville Tickets outlets, 865-656-4444, www.knoxvilletickets.com

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