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POP MUSIC | RECORD RACK

Under the Covers, It's Still Heartfelt Lovett

*** LYLE LOVETT, "Step Inside This House," MCA

September 20, 1998|Robert Hilburn

The first thing you need to know about this two-disc set is that Lovett, one of the most original and appealing songwriters in America for more than a decade, didn't write any of the 21 tunes. The second thing you need to know if you are a Lovett fan is not to let that first bit of information alarm you.

The crazy-haired Texan is also one of our most original and appealing vocal stylists, and he uses that side of his talent beautifully on a choice collection of songs by several other classy folk and country-oriented Texas songwriters, including Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt and Steven Fromholz.

These are the writers who influenced Lovett back when he was trying to figure out this whole songwriting process--and his deliberate, distinctive phrasing underscores the wry, bittersweet and melancholy elements these songs share with the music he would eventually write.

"I kind of felt after 'Road to Ensenada' [his Grammy-winning 1996 album] that I needed to stop and figure out what I want to do next," Lovett said in an interview when asked why he did a collection of cover tunes. "I felt that album said a lot of the things I wanted to say, and I wanted to go back to my musical beginnings and sort of take inventory. It's not an attempt to survey all of Texas music, but simply a sharing of the songs that meant so much to me personally."

The result for Lovett, who'll be at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza on Oct. 12 and the Wiltern Theatre on Oct. 14 and 15, is a warm, highly satisfying career sidestep--music, as is always the case with him, that seems to come at us straight from the heart.

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Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent).

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Hear the Music

Excerpts from Lyle Lovett's "Step Inside This House" are available on The Times' World Wide Web site. Point your browser to: http://www.latimes.com/soundclips

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