In 1998, Lyle Lovett released "Step Inside This House," a 2-disc salute to Texas songwriters and, by extension, the spirit and pull of his home state. Lovett's place must have had a mighty big foyer as the writers invited in numbered 10 strong, including Willis Alan Ramsey, Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark, whose song gave the collection its title. "Natural Forces" carries echoes of that earlier release, only with a condensed tributee list, leaving room for some new Lovett compositions in the mix.
Excellent intentions and noble sentiments aside, what both of these works celebrate most are Lovett's skills as vocalist, band leader, arranger and interpreter. (That said, if discovering Eric Taylor's elegiac Whooping Crane here steers folks toward that underappreciated writer's records, that's certainly worth celebrating as well.) The six-strong "tribute" stretch in the middle showcases Lovett's ability to slip on someone else's trail coat and wear it well, with none fitting better than Van Zandt's Loretta.
Elsewhere, Lovett displays his own strengths as a Texas songwriter, and a versatile one at that. He starts off on an epic note with the 5 ½-minute wanderlustful title track, which pivots on the line "home is where my horse is." He then shifts gears into wink-wink, nudge-nudge territory with the frantic Farmer Brown/Chicken Reel (you really think the song's chicken choking has anything to do with hen-icide?) and the western-swinging Pantry in which infidelity masquerades as infoodelity. Hey, any excuse to uncork a reference to "the sausage of Gdansk." And at the record's other end, just before an acoustic reprise of "Pantry," is It's Rock and Roll. Cowritten with "Step" returnee Robert Earl Keen, the song serves to break a lengthy mid-tempo streak as well as demonstrate that Lovett can, when he has a mind to, rock the house.