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Lyle Lovett

Release Me – 2012 (Lost Highway)

Reviewed by Jason MacNeil

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CDs by Lyle Lovett

The follow-up to 2009's "Natural Forces" sees Lyle Lovett meandering along the same musical roads he's done for the last few decades, this time though taking some signature songs and trying to put a new sheen on them. The opening instrumental Garfield's Blackberry Blossom isn't nearly as rollicking as Orange Blossom Special, but has a certain Mark O'Connor precision to it.

Meanwhile, the title track is a sweet duet, but doesn't truly leave much of an impression. When Lovett opts for the blues, as he does with White Boy Lost In The Blues, he comes to life with a gritty, old-school soulful approach to the song which Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee delivered decades ago. The same can be said later on Isn't That So that has some pep from the onset.

Unfortunately, Lovett does very little to add on a handful of the songs, especially the done-to-death Christmas number Baby, It's Cold Outside. When he strays into material that seems more earnest and far less cliched as he does with Dress Of Laces and Understand You, the latter a gorgeous slice of Americana singer-songwriter that taps into his strengths so perfectly. Perhaps the true highlight is how he downplays Brown Eyed Handsome Man, taking the Chuck Berry nugget and making it amble brilliantly without much hurry or haste. He takes this momentum forward with the toe-tapping One Way Gal, which rides an earthy, front porch groove quite smoothly. The true dark horse is Townes Van Zandt's White Freightliner Blues that is a barn-burning, rockabilly romp.

The inclusion of some Yuletide-leaning songs is a head-scratcher at times, but Lovett can get away with it when the homestretch contains a slow, delicate Night's Lullaby that somebody like Allison Krauss and Union Station would drool over. Here Lovett gets Sara Watkins (Nickel Creek) to add harmonies, giving it a sweeter than usual trait. Closing with the hymnal hues of Keep Us Steadfast with the singer and a piano being the only instruments initially needed, Lovett has a generally strong, if occasionally uneven effort.