How do you pick the best Lyle Lovett album? Do you go for the melancholy and jazzy strains of Pontiac? The big band meets country of the Large Band album? Perhaps the sad and beautiful Joshua Judges Ruth? All would be albums most artists would kill to call a career best. But Lyle? He beats them all with The Road to Ensenada.
He has quirky, laid-back and humorous moments in songs like Don't Touch My Hat (a Texan answer to Elvis' Blue Suede Shoes) and Long Tall Texan, which pairs him again with Randy Newman in a gently humorous cowboy song (you'll of course remember You've Got a Friend in Me which the two sang together). The western swing of That's Right, You're Not From Texas is so infectious that you simply can't help singing along. The best of these is Her First Mistake, with it's marvelous wordplay and off-beat rythm. If you're not sure what people mean by country cool you'll have no question after hearing Lyle's delivery on that one.
But while his wry and humorous songs can always be counted on, it's with the songs that dig deeper into human emotion that Lovett excels. Listen to the loneliness of the narrator in Christmas Morning: :Lesser songwriters might have included some vitriol or nastiness to flesh out this song of a lonely man ignored by the world. Lovett manages it with quiet resignation, answering people's empty "have a nice days" with "Hey, what could they mean by that, perhaps I'm the fool they take me for, not anything more."
The title track reaches a similar level of sadness, and the hidden bonus track crosses between the humorous, the lonely and the hopeful for a beautiful finish to a perfect album. The Lyle-curious should start here. The Lyle-faithful surely already play this one on a regular basis.