Cowboy Man

Lyle Lovett's new career retrospective pays homage to his beginnings -- but also raises troubling questions about his future

Granted, much of this year has been consumed by physical therapy as Lovett repairs a leg shattered in a ranch accident, but the only plans MCA/Curb has announced are for a possible October release of Anthology Volume Two composed of soundtracks he's recorded over the years. That's all well and grand, but it won't silence the doubters or satisfy the faithful who crave some substantive new material.

Perhaps Lovett is aware of the risky terrain on which he's been limping. Not alternative enough to hold the attention of the No Depression types, he's been increasingly gravitating toward the NPR crowd (if Lovett was afraid that a retrospective signifies aging, appearing on Morning Edition leaves no room for doubt). And if adult contemporary isn't the middle-aged wasteland it once was, it doesn't leave much room for what was once key to Lovett's songwriting -- an edgy sarcasm that earned him the label of misogynist but that also set him apart from the morass of singer/songwriters blurring into indistinguishable strum and whine. Thanks to an instantly recognizable voice that compensates for its unspectacular range with its character and impeccable phrasing, Lovett's been called the cowboy Sinatra. These vocal gifts have matured with him over the course of his career, but his ability to match the Chairman's staying power remains to be seen.

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