Tickle Toe,” the first track on Lyle Lovett’s 13th album, is an instrumental originally composed by jazz saxophonist Lester Young. Horns sizzle between interludes of guitar, ivories, strings, and drums, the overall sound unequivocally big band. So what’s with Lovett calling this oneï¿½a distinctly Americana outing, aside from that opening salvoï¿½It’s Not Big It’s Large? Whether he’s slyly referring to his nose or his entourage, it’s clear that the dozen or so large ones who’ve supported Lovett these past two decades deserve a lot of the credit for making him more of a brand name than Texas singer-songwriter contemporaries Joe Ely, Robert Earl Keen, and Rodney Crowell. Sure enough, his defeat of the devil on “I Will Rise Up” might have been merely by decision, if not for the knockout blow of the five-part gospel harmony. Likewise, without Guy Clark’s bookend vocals (corroborating the existence of Mother Maria) on “South Texas Girl,” Lovett’s narrative about “the lady in blue” (with whom cowboys entrusted their faith) wouldn’t transcend myth. Though Large is quality stuff, it will only leave you frustrated that Lovett has become such a quality-not-quantity guy. My Baby Don’t Tolerate and The Road to Ensenada are the only other albums of original songs he’s put out in the last 11 years. Maybe he’s too busy acting. Maybe safety in numbers is a logistical nightmare. Or maybe he needs a producer like Rick Rubin to kick him in the ass.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 21, 2007