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POP MUSIC | ALBUM REVIEW

*** 1/2, LYLE LOVETT, "The Road to Ensenada", Curb/MCA

June 16, 1996|Richard Cromelin

Lovett's last album, 1994's "I Love Everybody," was a minor, indifferent work, but here he sounds as if he's been snapped back to attention--which might figure, given his tabloid-tracked marriage and breakup with actress Julia Roberts.

But it would diminish this album--essentially an anatomy of a disintegrating relationship--to take it as a literal account of that celebrity romance. Its truth goes much deeper than that as it progresses from the buoyancy and bravado of the chase into troubled waters where alienation and loss chill to the bone. In his disillusionment, Lovett seems bewildered, almost stunned, and in the stillness of "Poison," loneliness takes on shades of existential isolation.

But Lovett isn't one for an unredeemed wallow, so he has Randy Newman bleat along on "Long Tall Texan," and he inspires a spirited team of L.A. studio pros to play his infectious hybrid of country, Cajun, folk, samba, gospel, western swing et al. without a trace of sterility. Stick around for a hidden track that adds a hopeful, if not quite happy, ending, and you'll come full circle with someone who's added emotional urgency to the expected consummate craftsmanship.

*

New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

Hear Lyle Lovett

* To hear excerpts from "The Road to Ensenada," call TimesLine at 808-8463 and press *5710.

In 805 area code, call (818) 808-8463.

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