PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


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

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.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.