Lyle Lovett needs a large band because Lyle Lovett is a musician with grand ambitions. He's never been your typical country artist; after all, this new disc opens with the swinging instrumental "Tickle Toe," composed by Ellington sidekick Lester Young. There's also a musical protest against injustice with the one-two gospel medley punch of his "I Will Rise Up," along with the traditional "Ain't No More Cane."
One of Lovett's greatest traits is his wry sense of humor, which is best expressed with "All Downhill." With it, he namedrops a few familiar songwriter friends: "Good luck you can't buy it/Joe Ely and I sit next to that John Hiatt/We park next to Guy Clark/We sing when it gets dark."
Then with the quasi-spiritual "South Texas Girl," Lovett even takes shots at our overly PC culture. "Now these days with car seats/And open container laws/Social correctness/Leaves no room for Santa Claus."
Lovett's oftentimes humorous words about friends, lovers and this strange planet we all inhabit are couched in music that swings along nicely, due to great musicianship from Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Viktor Krauss (bass) and the like. And it's satisfying music, even if there really is no Santa Claus.