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No place like home for Lovett

Years on road help crooner connect with homestead
/ Source: The Associated Press

A musician’s life allows Lyle Lovett to travel the world. As he gets older, he realizes there’s no place like home — even if it’s the place where a bull landed on top of him.

Lovett's deep connection to his roots at a farm north of Houston is one of the most noticeable elements of his new CD, “My Baby Don’t Tolerate.”

The disc is quintessential Lovett: tightly written, witty songs delivered in a deadpan voice to a swirling melange of musical styles, including country, blues, gospel and folk.

“A lot of these songs talk about where I’m from and how I sort of define my place in the world — my home, as I see it,” Lovett said. “The song that is sort of central to that whole theme is ‘The Truck Song.”’

On the surface a country cliche — a love song to a pick-up truck he calls “Old Black” — the longing for what it represents is palpable.

Lovett, 46, lives on an old-fashioned homestead where his mother’s family settled in the 1840s. His house was built by his grandparents in 1911, and his mother and her six siblings were all born there.

His grandfather gave away portions of his land to all his children to build their own homes. When his parents commuted to Houston for work, Lovett spent much of his time growing up in his grandparents’ house, only 300 yards from his own.

Lovett’s father died four years ago. His mother is still alive.

“When my dad was still here, I felt a tremendous support that allowed me to go out in the world and explore,” he said. “Dad covered the bases here at home. It was such a solid foundation of support. With his being gone, I found I wanted to be involved more in the things he was involved in here at home.”

He’s been to Paris, he’s been to London, Lovett notes in “The Truck Song.” He even married and divorced a movie star, Julia Roberts.

If he hadn’t had the opportunity to travel, “staying here wouldn’t have the same appeal,” he said.

Encounter with a bull
His uncle is glad Lovett has stuck around. In March 2002, Lovett’s uncle was flipped by a bull. Coming to his rescue, Lovett’s right leg bone was shattered into 16 pieces and had to be reconstructed.

“Even now, a year and a half later, I continue to do exercises and continue to work on trying to get the muscle back,” he said. “It could have been so much worse.”

Two months after the accident, bored with convalescing, Lovett actually went to work performing. He wore a cast that looked like it had the spokes of a bicycle wheel coming out of it.

In his album’s liner notes, Lovett thanks five doctors.

The disc opens with a diverse one-two punch: the jaunty country jig, “Cute as a Bug,” and the bluesy title cut, which contains some of his sharpest lyrics: “And not being completely insensitive, I could tell my ship had run aground,” he sings. “Because when I puckered up, you know she puckered down.”

The album closes with two songs featuring a full gospel choir. A soft-spoken, mannered Lutheran, Lovett has always seemed the last person you’d expect a gospel song from, but he loves the expressiveness.

“It’s blues, really, and as you can hear in my songs, I’m a fan of blues music,” he said.

Lovett said he’s been fortunate to work with record companies that don’t try to restrict him.

He had the same good fortune to arrive in Nashville during the mid-1980s, when a country music sales slump caused record companies to search widely for something new. Lovett, Steve Earle, k.d. lang, Nanci Griffith earned recording contracts in those days.

“The stuff that ended up being the next big thing in Nashville ended up being traditional, like Randy Travis and Clint Black, not k.d. lang and Steve Earle, or me,” he said.

But, he said, “it gave us a chance to get started.”

He’s back now with a Nashville-based record company, Lost Highway.

“Simply having one person at a record company who likes what you do can make a huge difference in your career, a huge difference” he said. “Lost Highway seems to be interested in this record, and seems to be interesed in the sort of artists that are hard to categorize — Lucinda Williams, Ryan Adams, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson.

“To be in that company, and to be working with people who are used to thinking in a way that allows individual expression, is really comforting,” he said.