Lyle Lovett’s fourth LP still sets a high bar for country music creativity
Although it marked only the fourth album in his budding career, Joshua Judges Ruth, released March 31, 1992, not only set a high standard for Lyle Lovett’s future efforts, but also begat a stylistic continuum that remains intact even now.
Never confined to one particular genre — be it country, jazz, swing, or balladry — Lovett has avoided becoming a one trick pony, despite his obvious affection for horses and all things equestrian.
Consequently, the music shared on Joshua Judges Ruth doesn’t fall into any specific niche. That’s not to say that there aren’t some overarched themes that Lovett touches upon in his attempt to garner some sort of informed inspiration. Religion plays a role through the gospel delivery shared in the songs “Church,” “Baltimore” and “Since The Last Time,” while mortality comes into play on the quiet yet compelling “Family Reserve.” The album title itself draws from the names of three books of the Old Testament that appear in sequential order — “Joshua,” “Judges” and “Ruth.”
Nevertheless, true to his Everyman image, there’s nothing high-minded about Lovett’s largess. Big band and swing dominate the sounds of “I’ve Been To Memphis” and “All My Love Is Gone,” just as the upbeat blues that’s part and parcel of “You’ve Been So Good Up To Now” ratchets up the tempo with its driving delivery. The pedal steel-drenched, tears-in-the beers weeper “She’s Leaving Me Because She Really Wants To” offers an especially emphatic display of honest emotion, a song that shares some surprising empathy for the one that leaves her remorseful lover behind.
So too, closing track “She Makes Me Feel Good” ends the album on an upbeat note, imparting a sass and sashay that underscores Lovett’s desire to operate within carefree confines.
Lovett had a worthy cast of collaborators — among them, guitarist Leo Kottke (making a rare outside contribution), Emmylou Harris, Rickie Lee Jones, pedal steel player Jay Dee Maness, bassists Edgar Meyer and Leland Sklar, drummer Russ Kunkel, keyboardist Matt Rollings, and background vocalists Sweet Pea Atkinson, Sir Harry Bowens and Arnold McCuller — that helped ensure the power and potency of each endeavor. Nevertheless, Lovett himself took center stage, his wry and wizened vocals imbuing each of the album’s entries with a tattered yet touching delivery, one that allowed the songs to sink below the skin and leave an indelible impression.
In many ways, Joshua Judges Ruth remains among the more essential Lovett efforts, having established a template that’s resonated ever since. It’s evident as well on his upcoming album 12th of June, given that it retraces that earlier album’s sound and styles with the same sturdy delivery.
Clearly then, the verdict Joshua Judges Ruth imparted shared ongoing implications.