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Lyle Lovett

Step Inside This House – 1998 (MCA)

Reviewed by Bill Sacks

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CDs by Lyle Lovett

This double-disc set contains none of Lyle Lovett's own songs and is meant as a tribute to a generation of Texas songwriters whose work has provided a kind of psychic backdrop for his own career. These renditions provide both a series of touchstones of regional vernacular and, perhaps unintentionally, a reminder that Lovett has flourished because his talents transcend that vernacular.

The guiding spirits of the set are the late Townes Van Zandt and Walter Hyatt, both men having provided strong musical suggestion to their fellow Texans. The five selections from each make up the heart and spine of this record, and Lovett's interpretations have all the signature lyricism and muted humor his longtime listeners might expect. Likewise, two "traditional" numbers (one a Bob Wills staple, the other having existed in a variety of versions since the early days of Wills' career) are treated with a genuinely powerful reverence.

The rest is drawn from a host of Lovett's peers, most of whose writing talents are incommensurate with his own - Lovett usually has the good sense to know a shaggy dog or leaden sentiment when he sees one, but the same cannot be said for all those he champions. More troubling is the absence of any material from the three men whose careers began in the ranks of The Flatlanders, and whose subsequent catalogs contain examples of fire and skill which rival Lovett's own. The notion that the past 20 years of Texas songwriting could have happened without them is almost obscene, and this attempt at encapsulation can only be flawed by the omission.