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In Lyle Lovett's Country
The Artist Looks Back at His Early Works

Listen Listen to Bob Edwards' conversation with Lyle Lovett.

Dec. 4, 2001 -- In most record stores, Lyle Lovett's albums are found in the country bins, despite the fact that Lovett has been bounding across genres for more than a decade. Still, while the categorization isn't totally accurate, neither is it inaccurate. After all, if not in the country section, where should the clerk put him?

Lyle Lovett plays guitar

Lyle Lovett tunes up before his interview/performance in NPR's Studio 4A.
Photos: Dan Mitchell, NPR

He gets the country label because that's where he started, and because he holds on to some of the attributes suited to a modern-day, post-Nashvillian country figure: ironic detachment, twisted humor, serious songwriting chops, and the capacity to jerk a tear or two.

Throughout the 1990s, Lovett made a career out of slyly distancing himself from the country mainstream, while never attacking it head-on as some of his brethren have done. He never sought to escape the genre -- only to expand beyond it.

As Lovett tells Morning Edition host Bob Edwards, Anthology Vol. 1, Cowboy Man, the first installment of a several-volume career retrospective, is meant specifically to illuminate his country side. As such, the anthology is made up mostly of songs from his first two records -- his eponymous debut and his breakthrough Pontiac.

Lovett sat with Edwards recently, played a few songs, and went through the list of titles on the first volume. Here are a few of Lovett's comments:

Lyle Lovett

"An anthology means you're getting old," says Lovett, whose recording career began in 1986.

"The Truck Song" Listen
"Everybody should have a pickup truck, no matter where they live. It's always nice to know that you can haul something."

"Cowboy Man"
"Boy hopes to meet girl. So boy makes up song where boy does meet girl."

"God Will"
"Unconditional love and unconditional forgiveness are hard things for people to live up to."

"Farther Down the Line"
"An attempt at metaphor…so many great country songs use metaphor so brilliantly."

"This Old Porch" Listen
"What it means to leave behind people and places that are near and dear to you."

Lovett was born in Klein, Texas, in 1957. His immediate musical forebears are fellow Texans such as Guy Clark and the late Townes Van Zandt. In 1998, Lovett released Step Inside This House, a two-CD set of songs, most of them written by those two and other Texans Here's a sampling.

"The Highway Kind" (Townes Van Zandt)

"If I Needed You" (Townes Van Zandt)

"Step Inside This House" (Guy Clark)

"More Pretty Girls Than One" (Traditional)

"Why I Don’t Know"
"Pure silliness."

"If I Were the Man That You Wanted"
"An attempt at sincerity. I think."

"San Antonio Girl" Listen
"I still think of myself as a guy who's gonna show up all by himself with his guitar." Being onstage with a band "still strikes me as extraordinary." (Editor's note: For the interview, Lovett did show up with just his guitar, and he played this Texas swing number, which he wrote for the anthology. Click on the accompanying link for the full-band version.)

"If I Had a Boat"
Lovett claims this is a true story -- he really tried to ride a pony across a pond, and wished he had a boat.

"Give Back my Heart"
This tale of meeting an enthusiastic woman in a cowboy bar is "an example of wishful thinking to its furthest conclusion."

"Which Way Does That Old Pony Run?"
The erstwhile journalism major says he took more away from his time in college than you might think. "The main focus was usage -- was really just the language."

"I Loved You Yesterday" Listen
"A song that I never play" live. "I'm not sure I could get through it."

Lovett tunes guitar

"Walk Through the Bottomland"
Lovett was lucky enough to get Emmylou Harris to sing backup for this tune from his second album.

"L.A. County" Listen
"An attempt at the narrative murder ballad."

"If You Were to Wake Up"
"The idea is to express a feeling that other people might identify with in a personal way. It's a difficult thing to do."

Other Resources

Read Lyle Lovett's biography on the MCA Records Web site.

The Insurgent Country Web site is your guide to the many country acts that generally don't make it onto conglomerate-owned radio stations.