Lyle Lovett is a goddamned national treasure.
Of course, you probably already know that. Because at some point over the past 30 years, you’ve stumbled across at least one of his songs — maybe on the TV, maybe on the radio, maybe in a film — and his unique combination of insane melody, mordantly witty lyrics and a voice as pure as a mountain stream has completely blown you away.
It took me a little bit of time to get there — I didn’t get onboard until 1992’s Joshua Judges Ruth — but it’s clear that while he was slotted into “Country” at first, that was just a way to get his foot in the door; a reference point for an artist that is completely sui generis.
Who keeps on trusting you
When you’ve been cheating
And spending your nights on the town
And who keeps on saying that he still wants you
Take “God Will,” the waltz-time highlight of his 1986 debut. Of course the lead instrument is a lovely steel guitar, but, other than that, it could almost be an ancient folk ballad about a man hopelessly in love with someone who’s stepping out on him.
When you’re through running around
And who keeps on loving you
When you’ve been lying
Saying things ain’t what they seem
Well of course, it’s gotta be Lyle, right? Because he loves her and he forgives her, or course. Or not.
But I don’t
But I won’t
And that’s the difference
Between God and me
Ha! Even with backing vocals piled on for emphasis after each verse, the chorus of “God Will” is so matter-of-fact and understated, you might not even realize how funny it is. But that’s Lovett’s wit in a nutshell: he tells plenty of jokes in his songs, but he never telegraphs a single one. Instead he trusts this audience to keep up with him.
“God Will” performed live in 1988
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