The Road To Ensenada

Lyle Lovett

MCA, 1996

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


[Adapted from a review originally appearing in On The Town magazine on August 6, 1996]

It's tempting to cast this album in the light of Lyle Lovett's 1995 breakup with Hollywood beauty Julia Roberts—after all, lyrics are notoriously easy to bend into what the listener wants to hear, rather than what the writer means to say. Truth be told, there are songs here tinged with sadness about relationships that don't work out. But, far from being a Jackson Browne / woe-is-me album (e.g. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 I'm Alive—and whining about it), on the whole The Road to Ensenada sounds much less like a personal unburdening than one more sophisticated, sensitive yet cheeky collection of songs from thinking-man's cowboy Lovett.

Lovett kicks things off in style with his hilarious ode to haberdashery "Don't Touch My Hat" ("If it's her you want / I don't care about that / You can have my girl / But don't touch my hat"). It's just the kind of aggressively quirky song he consistently pulls off so well with his low-key am-I-winking-at-the-audience-or-not? delivery. Maybe he is, maybe he isn't; either way, you have to grin back when he sings "I wear a seven / And you're out of order / 'Cause I call tell from here / You're a seven and a quarter."

Lovett follows with the nicely contrasting Spanish-guitar fable of dead-end flirtation "Her First Mistake," closing this steadily entertaining story-song with a typically sharp observation: "I just keep on running faster / Chasing the happily / I am ever after." Next up is Jackson Browne himself, singing harmony vocals on the indescribably bizarre bayou tale of "Fiona." The interesting note here is that their voices are so similar it ends up sounding almost like double-tracked Lyle. Randy Newman also guests later on the bluesy "Long Tall Texan."

And on and on Lovett goes, pushing through the jubilant big band swing of "That's Right (You're Not From Texas)," the steady-on country-rock of "Private Conversation" and the still, haunting regret of "Promises" (which first appeared on 1995's Dead Man Walking soundtrack), telling tall tales and exploring romantic foibles with equal measures of keen-eyed insight. The worst part for Ms. Julia may be this: even in the aftermath of their split, her ex never ran low enough on terrific material to need her.

Rating: A-

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