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The Graham Album Review #2116

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Lyle Lovett: 12th of June

(Verve Records, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 5/25/2022)

There are not a lot of performers on the scene who bring together the combination of influences and styles quite like Lyle Lovett. The Texan started out as a folkie, wrote songs for others, and launched his recording career in 1986, and since then, he has incorporated country, folk, jazz, African American Gospel, and often laconically witty lyrics in his songs. It has been a decade since Lyle Lovett has released a new album, but he is now out with a project called 12th of June, which has a lot of the sounds for which Lovett has been known, but is rather wide-ranging, venturing more into jazz than most of his previous projects, including covering songs by jazz composers from previous generations. He appears with his jazzy group he calls his Large Band, and, as he is wont to do, can also get twangy country with steel guitar and fiddle,

12th of June is his approximately 14th album over a 36-year recording career, which included winning four Grammy Awards. Along the way, he has also worked as an actor in several films, including some directed by the late Robert Altman and, and numerous TV episodes, sometimes playing a musician or himself, and but otherwise assorted characters. He also appeared on stage in a Shakespeare production in 2010 of Much Ado About Nothing for which he also composed the music. After a long hiatus, which saw him raising a family with a pair of twins born in 2017, he is now out with 12th of June which is apparently the twins’ birth date.

On the new album, Lovett is joined by several of the first-call studio players he has enlisted in the past, including pianist Matt Rollings, drummer Russel Kunkel and supporting vocalist Francine Reed, with whom Lovett sang a couple of duets on the album. What sets this recording apart is the number of covers which appear, with four tunes by jazz composers, including Horace Silver, Dave Frishberg, Nat King Cole, Andy Razaf. On many of the tracks, his Large Band appears, including horns, but there is some country influence mixed in, with steel guitar or fiddle. His style can also evoke the influence of the Western Swing of Bob Wills. And he is not without his quirky and witty lyrics The result is sort of classic Lyle Lovett but more so.

Opening is a jazz instrumental track by the late Horace Silver called Cooking at the Continental on which Lovett does not appear at all. It’s a showcase for the horn players in the Large Band. <<>>

After that comes one of those songs that is uniquely Lyle Lovett. Pants Is Overrated features Lovett’s wry, quirky lyrics with a funky setting with Gospel style backing vocals. <<>>

Another of the jazz covers is a tune from early in the career of Nat King Cole, Straighten, Up and Fly Right, which was originally written as a warning against getting into drugs, and recorded by Cole in the later 1940s with his classic trio setting. The Large Band with the backing vocals does this version, and it also provides opportunities for instrumental solos. <<>>

Another cover from decades past is Gee Baby Ain’t I Good to You, recorded previously by Fats Waller and also Nat King Cole. It’s taken in an easy swing groove, as the song is traditionally done. Francine Reed shares the lead vocal with Lovett. <<>>

Lovett gets into his folky singer-songwriter mode on the album’s title song 12th of June which celebrates the arrival of his twins. It’s a pretty and sincere song. <<>>

On the other hand, Lovet-t’s whimsical side again comes out on Pig Meat Man a bluesy proclamation of his love for pork. His Large Band does its thing nicely. <<>>

Lovett’s eclecticism on the album takes another direction as he evokes the spirit of a romantic Broadway musical on his song Are We Dancing which brings in a string section. <<>>

The album closes with its lengthiest track, On a Winter’s Morning which again brings in the resources of the Large Band, in this swingy country-influenced song. <<>> It goes out with a little Dixieland influence. <<>>

It has been ten years since Lyle Lovett’s last album Release Me. And as on that album, this clever and eclectic songwriter has included a number of cover versions, in this case from the jazz world. What he calls his Large Band does a great job on both the covers and his original songs, though a couple of his tunes can take a more intimate direction. As always, Lovett’s music is done at a very high standard, in musicianship, production and sound. And we’ll give the album an “A” for audio quality.

One of the early reviews I saw of 12th of June posed the question, what took him so long. For Lovett, life probably intervened, and to borrow another cliché, no wine before its time. In any case, Lyle Lovett is back with an album that epitomizes his distinctive musical personality, and that is most welcome, and worth the wait.

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