There are brilliant writers and performers who work within a genre and produce something that has one foot — or even a toe or two — outside it. Lyle Lovett is one of these rare folks.
Lovett makes a striking impression, even after his tall hair days. He’s also an actor and clearly a highly intelligent individual. He is tricky to define. The first thing that comes to mind is country — and there clearly is a lot of country in there — but he also goes beyond the category. The point is well made at the beginning of his AllMusic profile:
Lyle Lovett was one of the most distinctive and original singer/songwriters to emerge during the ’80s. Though he was initially labeled as a country singer, the tag never quite fit him. Lovett had more in common with ’70s singer/songwriters like Guy Clark, Jesse Winchester, Randy Newman, and Townes Van Zandt, combining a talent for incisive, witty lyrical detail with an eclectic array of music, ranging from country and folk to big-band swing and traditional pop. Lovett’s literate, multi-layered songs stood out among the formulaic Nashville hit singles of the late ’80s as well as the new traditionalists who were beginning to take over country music. Drawing from alternative country and rock fans, Lovett quickly built up a cult following which began to spill over into the mainstream with his second album, 1988’s Pontiac. Following Pontiac, his country audience declined, but his reputation as a songwriter and musician continued to grow, and he sustained a dedicated cult following throughout the ’90s. (Continue Reading…)
The profile at Bio also hints at the fact that it is wrong to call Lovett a country singer–without an asterisk:
Born in Texas in 1957, Lyle Lovett released his self-titled debut album in 1986 to excellent reviews. Five singles from that album made it onto the country charts, but Lovett wasn’t satisfied within the traditional confines of country music. He continued to experiment in jazz, folk and pop within the country framework and he has won several Grammy Awards since his first in 1989 for Lyle Lovett and His Large Band. (Continue Reading…)
Here is Lovett’s elegant and minimalist site. Above is “I’ve Been to Memphis” and below is “She’s Hot to Go.”