Music

Lyle Lovett: Smile: Songs from the Movies

S. Renee Dechert

Lyle Lovett

Smile: Songs from the Movies

Label: Curb
US Release Date: 2003-02-25
UK Release Date: 2003-03-10
Amazon
iTunes

In a recent interview with Dan Aquilante of the New York Post Online, Lyle Lovett explained the rationale behind his most recent album, Smile: Songs from the Movies, a compilation of material he has recorded to accompany films.

"I always have a compulsion to organize my work," he said, "but I broke my leg last year [in a much-publicized encounter with a bull] and I was laying around thinking, 'How can I be productive'? That's how this record came about." Later, he added, "I'm fairly compulsive about organizing the things in my life."

And organize he has.

The 12 songs on Smile represent a wide range of American cinema -- everything from Toy Story ("You've Got a Friend in Me" sung with composer Randy Newman) to Quiz Show ("Moritat [Mack the Knife]") to Kissing Jessica Stein ("Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You") to The Apostle ("I'm a Soldier in the Army of the Lord"). Lovett's Large Band sounds great on these jazz-big band arrangements of material from classic composers (e.g., Irving Berlin, Nat King Cole, Irving Mills) and well known contemporary songwriters (e.g., Burt Bacharach, Bob Seger).

The results, however, are uneven.

While it's certainly good that Lovett has finally collected this material, too often, his voice simply doesn't dominate like it should. For example, in the title track, a classic tune by Charlie Chaplin, Lovett's voice almost seems disconnected, which certainly doesn't fit the music given that jazz is, inherently, highly collaborative. Or there's "Summer Wind", a song that calls for the vocalist to drive the song -- that's never been Lovett's strength, and it doesn't happen here. Another example would be Ray Charles' "What'd I Say", with its R&B shuffle; Lovett, a cool vocalist, finds himself in a hot song, and the combination doesn't always work.

Granted, the incongruity between Lovett's voice, the Large Band, and the material is a kind of parodic production technique. Generally, big movie songs are designed to give the audience a nice, warm feeling about the film: Lovett's voice, which doesn't quite blend with the music, provides an ironic commentary, undercutting Hollywood's traditional "happy ending", a point made especially clear in "Blue Skies", a song teeming with lyric optimism that's played in a minor key. Lovett's voice provides a perfect twist.

Similarly, the vocal contract between Lovett and Keb' Mo' works nicely on "Till It Shines" as does his duet with Randy Newman on "You've Got a Friend in Me", which finds two distinctive singers working together -- and traces of Ragtime add to the musical subtext.

A highlight of Smile is Lovett's version of "Moritat (Mack the Knife)". Gone is Bobby Darin's upbeat tune. Instead, things begins slowly, gradually gaining momentum, and the song starts swinging as Mark Isham's trumpet solo helps propel the music, with the bowing of the cellos creating the sound of the knife cutting. But by the end, Lovett's voice has assumed an almost desperate vulnerability -- "Mackie, how much did you charge"? It is a fine arrangement.

Smile concludes with two gospel tracks: the bluesy "Pass Me Not" (a hymn co-written by Franny J. Crosby), and the traditional "I'm a Soldier in the Army of the Lord", a swinging gospel number. Both songs work nicely and provide an interesting compliment to the material that has gone before.

Lyle Lovett hasn't released an album of original material since 1996's Grammy-winning Road to Ensenada though that's scheduled to change in the fall of 2003. And while Smile is an uneven project that lacks the quirky country-and-western material that's been a staple of Lovett's career, there's still some fine music here.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image