I certainly didn’t expect to say I was excited for this release, but when Lyle Lovett released “12th of June” ahead of his first project in 10 years – and now free from Curb Records, at that – I had high hopes for what a refreshed comeback album from him would sound like. After all, as I noted in a certain feature on him from last year, my favorite side of Lovett is the more introspective singer-songwriter who, while quirky, always carries a warmth and grace in his presentation that’s immediately likable.
And thus, with his newest album proper … well, it’s a tricky one to discuss. Of course, it’s also where I’d like to stress the subjective nature of these types of exercises, because I didn’t get that more introspective side of him here like I had hoped; The title track to 12th of June is actually something of an anomaly here. No, this album plays in closer proximity to the other side of Lovett – the
big large band enthusiast who, I admit, has never done much for me as a vocal or charismatic presence on those kind of jazz-inspired songs. He’s jerky, quirky, and always a bit too stiff, which can contribute well to the looser nature of those songs. I mean, “Pants is Overrated” and “Pig Meat Man” are as dumb as you’d think they’d be from those titles, but at least Lovett leans into them with a wry sense of self-awareness.
On the other hand, there’s a difference between lightweight and gimmicky, the latter being how I’d describe a large chunk of this project, outside of the title track or the almost equally tender “The Mocking Ones.” It doesn’t help that he frequently gets upstaged by his guest performers and even his backing vocalists on those early tracks – particularly “Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good to You” – or that it’s built more around covers than Lovett originals proper.
And yet, in a weird way, I get it. Lovett has described this project as his combined reflections on fatherhood that came to him late in life. So both the quirkiness and generally sillier nature of this album makes sense to some extent, and does find its footing in places – I happen to really like the chipper rollick of that fiddle and saloon piano interplay featured in “On A Winter’s Morning.” The title track still sticks out sonically, but it’s also the centerpiece and anchoring point of this project that belongs here right alongside the other tracks. But it’s also not without its faults at points: “Her Loving Man,” though a fairly straightforward country song that’s fine enough on a compositional level, features an awkward lyrical hook; “Are We Dancing” is somewhat twee; and the overall sequencing of this album is something of a mess.
But, let’s be honest: Lovett didn’t make this album for me, and he probably didn’t even make it for hardcore fans. He made it for himself, and it’s as weirdly unique as you’d expect from him at any point in his long-running career. How that will hit listeners will vary, but for me … well, this isn’t really the Lovett project for me. But I’m happy to have him and his idiosyncratic optimism back, especially when it was worth the return just for that title track.
- Favorite tracks: “12th of June,” “The Mocking Ones,” “On a Winter’s Morning”
- Least favorite track: “Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good to You”