For over 30 years, Klein, Texas’ own Lyle Lovett has used vivid characters and witty wordplay to further his home state’s musical legacy.
Lovett, born on Nov. 1, 1957, caught his first break straight out of Texas A&M University, when fellow songwriter Guy Clark heard Lovett’s demo cassette and shared it with friends around Nashville. In 1986, Lovett’s MCA Records debut proved him a worthy ally in Steve Earle, Dwight Yoakam and others’ winning battle against cookie-cutter country hits. From that first album, Lovett wrote songs rooted in country yet embracing jazz, folk and pop elements.
By the ‘90s, Lovett transitioned into a film career. His best-known role came with 1992’s The Player — less because of Lovett’s acting chops and more because he met his wife from 1993 to 1995, Julia Roberts, on set. But even after the mainstream lost interest in Lovett’s music and love life, he continued recording great albums and memorable singles; in fact, it could be argued that as a creative force onstage and in the studio, Lovett helped set the blueprint for Americana artists more interested in art than airplay.
For a taste of Lovett’s tender story-songs and his galloping nods to Texas’ role in the development of country music, check out these five selections. Over the past 30-plus years, Lovett’s released way too much great music for any Top 5 to be definitive, so think of these as examples of his musical versatility.
“That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas)”
From ‘The Road to Ensenada’ (1996)
For a small sampling of Lovett’s ongoing life as a touring band leader, check out Live From Texas. The 1999 release collected recordings from the mid-’90s, including this ode to Texas’ Western swing legacy co-written by fellow regional songwriting legend Willis Alan Ramsey.
From ‘Pontiac’ (1987)
It’d be easy to come up with way more than five upbeat examples of Lovett’s Texas pride, but that’d shun some of his sparse soundscapes that’ve made him a recurring name on Hollywood soundtracks. For an example of Lovett’s soft-spoken inner poet, press play on this late-’80s title track.
From ‘Step Inside This House’ (1998)
Over 20 years later, many of the best Americana cuts incorporate the clever wordplay and acoustic accompaniment of the opening track off 1998’s ambitious double-disc collection Step Inside This House. It’s written by the late Steven Fromholz, a former poet laureate of Texas.
From ‘Lyle Lovett’ (1986)
Instead of the Grammy-nominated and rock-sounding single “You Can’t Resist It,” let’s honor Lovett’s self-titled major-label debut from 1986 with this more traditional-sounding celebration of Texas’ roots music and folk heroes.
“If I Had a Boat”
From ‘Pontiac’ (1987)
Lovett’s status among his Texas songwriter peers, including college buddy Robert Earl Keen, can be summed up with this well-told story from 1987’s Pontiac album. That unexpected twist during Lovett’s Lone Ranger and Tonto analogy is enough to make this one stand out in a catalog filled with amazing compositions.