Sometimes music feels like the soundtrack to your life. I have been avidly listening to Lyle Lovett since the release of his third album, Lyle Lovett and His Large Band. Also since that time, I have seen him in concert as much as has been possible without traveling a long distance. I managed to make each of my wives and my parents converts to the Lyle Lovett cause. That cause is simply music played brilliantly, being a classically cool performer, with quirky songs that cross many genres of musical style. David Bowie was the musical hero of my youth; Lyle Lovett has filled that role in my adulthood.
Joshua Judges Ruth was released in 1992, and typing that makes me wonder in a vague sort of way where I was in life twenty-five years ago, besides just geographically and employment-wise. Having purchased the aforementioned previous album I of course also bought this one and recall being more entranced with it than its predecessor. I guess the “where I was in life” comment goes back to my first sentence about music being a soundtrack to your life. How is it that at whatever age I was then I was so taken by Lyle Lovett’s music?
The first time I saw him on tour must have been in support of this album, so the set list was heavily filled with its songs. If you have ever seen him in concert then you know that Lovett has a knack for between song banter; he is quite funny, and at least it seems that most of what he says is spontaneous. After (or, maybe before) singing the opening track, “I’ve Been to Memphis”, he explained to us that the refrain had nothing to do with any part of a woman’s anatomy. It goes:
Sherry she had big ones
Sally had some too
But Allison had little ones
What hate to go to school
This is a good example of how Lovett likes to do amusing things with lyrics to catch the listener off guard.
“Church” is the second track, and is the only song that Lovett seems to play at every single live show; at least all of the fifteen or so shows I have attended. It is an amusing story about attending a church service where the preacher goes on and on, not allowing anyone to leave. The album version has what sounds like a full gospel choir, so I enjoy it in concert when he has many back-up singers with him, and not as much if it is only he and the band. It is a fun song, and along with the opening and closing tracks, one of only three upbeat songs on the album. That does not sound like a ringing endorsement (lack of upbeat tracks), but these songs are so good, so well played by the musicians, and so meticulously sung by Lyle Lovett that I really feel Joshua Judges Ruth is the high mark in his catalog, more so than even Pontiac, his second and very highly regarded album.
“North Dakota” may be my all-time favorite LL song. It is just lovely, with backing vocals by Rickie Lee Jones, and tells us about cowboys in Texas and in North Dakota. I am always very happy when he plays it in concert. Here is a video of the album version:
“She’s Already Made Up Her Mind”, “You’ve Been So Good Up To Now”, “All My Love Is Gone”, and “She’s Leaving Me Because She Really Wants To” all fall in the realm of man who has been wronged to some extent by a woman and is now unhappy. The last one does at least give us a little LL humor with its title. The first time I heard him play it in concert he introduced it as being “about the happiest woman in the world, my ex-girlfriend”. The older I get the more these songs kind of make me sad, but in an appreciation of art melancholy kind of way.
“Since The Last Time” and “Family Reserve” are exceptionally well-written and interesting songs about death. The first is rather long with a lot of set-up to eventually lead you towards the surprise ending, which is that the singer is the person dead and in the coffin at the funeral described:
I went to a funeral
Lord it made me happy
Seeing all those people
I ain’t seen
Since the last time
While “Family Reserve” describes how we never really lose our loved ones because they live on in our memories:
And we’re all gonna be here forever
So mama, don’t you make such a stir
Just put down that camera
And come on and join up
The last of the family reserve
My own “family reserve” seems to be getting smaller and smaller, and listening to this song recently made me tear up a little. Again, there is humor abounding within a song with such a morbid theme.
Despite all of this sadness, loss, and melancholy LL chooses to end Joshua Judges Ruth on an upbeat and funny note with “She Makes Me Feel Good”. He has found love again, if perhaps not with quite the right girl:
She’s got big red lips
She’s got big brown eyes
When she treats me right
It’s a big surprise
She won’t do anything
That she said she would
She makes me feel good
She makes me feel good
I will attach one more video, but it does not have any songs from JJR, instead it is a fairly recent NPR Tiny Desk Concert featuring Lyle and his fiddle player Luke Bulla (who is really great). The story goes that Lyle contacted NPR and asked if he could perform for one of their Tiny Desk concerts, they obliged. It is just under 18 minutes, and a lot of fun. Three songs, banter, two performers. Watch this and you may want to catch Lyle Lovett in concert next time he plays in a city near you.
--Stu Moore is in need of finding the woman described in “She Makes Me Feel Good”. But then again, he might not be able to handle it.