By now the archetypal Texas country-pop of Lyle Lovett rings with such easygoing familiarity that even his new songs sound like old favorites. It’s a testament to how well Lovett inhabits his own skin. And yet while recent years have seen some excellent recordings, a few of them—particularly the less spontaneous Large Band albums—leave you with the nagging feeling that you’ve heard it all before; it’s on his solo efforts where Lovett seems the most engaged. Natural Forces (Lost Highway) now finds the middle ground—a band session with a modest, organic feel. In terms of his material, it’s also one of Lovett’s best efforts in years. If only there were more of it. Lovett writes (or co-writes) only five of the eleven songs, and they’re all gems: the melancholy surrender of the title track and “Empty Blue Shoes,” the wry humor of “It’s Rock and Roll” and “Pantry,” and the mildly scandalous “Farmer Brown/Chicken Reel” (hint: he’s not talking about strangling poultry). Of the covers, Townes Van Zandt’s “Loretta” and Tommy Elskes’s “Bohemia” really sparkle, but they’re not quite enough to make the rest of the album catch fire.
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