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It's Not Really Personal

June 16, 1996|Robert Hilburn | Robert Hilburn is The Times' pop music critic

'The Road to Ensenada" is an engaging album that chronicles the rise and fall of a relationship--a work so rich in imagery and mood that it's bound to lead to admiring questions about what inspired it.

Because it is Lyle Lovett's first album since the breakup earlier this year of his marriage to actress Julia Roberts, however, such questioning could be a bit delicate.

But Lovett, 38, handles the topic gracefully during an interview on the eve of Tuesday's release of the new album.

The collection kicks off a high-profile period for the Texan, one of the most acclaimed songwriters in contemporary pop and country music. He can be seen in concert at 9 tonight on the Disney Channel's "Going Home" series, and he begins a summer tour next month that includes a stop at the Greek Theatre on Aug. 11.

Question: Does it worry you that people may look at the album in narrow, almost voyeuristic terms because of the marriage? Can't that sort of thing overshadow the emotional heart of a song?

Answer: Well, I think it is human [to speculate] so it is something you expect. Even on the last album ["I Love Everybody"] when I made a big deal out of saying the songs were all written way before the marriage, people did the same thing. The truth is, this record is not a record about my relationship with Julia Roberts. None of the songs address anything specific in that relationship, though some of the songs are based on feelings that came from it.

What you hope to do as a songwriter is to make people feel something . . . genuine emotions. That's really the only way I know how to work. If you go back over my albums, you will find I have always written about relationships. This isn't a new direction.

Q: Of all the ballads, "Christmas Morning" is the most touching to me . . . the way it looks at romantic innocence and disillusionment. If I were guessing, I'd certainly think that song is about your relationship.

A: I can see where someone would think that, but that song was actually written before. It's a song about loneliness that takes advantage of Christmas as a vehicle to express it. That's a time when you can really feel sorry for yourself in the face of everyone being excited about the season.

Q: There is a lot of emotional range in the album, yet the songs seem somehow linked. How do you see the songs tied together?

A: To me, the album is really a kind of a progression. It starts from the beginnings of a relationship. "Don't Touch My Hat" has this confident, almost arrogant point of view . . . a guy who is feeling good, with no troubles. Then, you meet someone and there are a couple of lighthearted, playful songs that lead to "Who Loves You Better," which starts to be a questioning song. "Private Conversation" extends that. Then, things get a little darker until there is a resolution.

Q: But how does "Long Tall Texan" fit in? That's a pretty goofy song.

A: That's the first song I ever sang in public. I was in the second grade and it was at the end of the school year . . . a presentation for the parents. In the album, it's meant to show how you try to bounce back from a disappointment . . . and tell yourself that you are OK . . . confident, strong, where you say to yourself, "I'm back."

But then you find yourself alone and so you do have moments of reflection and that's what leads to the loneliness of "Christmas Morning." That's definitely the low point of the story, but then that feeling passes and the title song is the next step. It's about picking yourself up and going on with your life, which is what we all have to do in real life.

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