Could arch Texas singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett's latest album be meant as a tonic for the troops, a way to stay upbeat during perilous times? Or is it meant ironically, a collection of show tunes combining Lovett's eerie ability to amuse with an unusually cutting edge?
The expertly crafted, not-quite-easy-listening Smile is a little bit of both. It's also a holding action: All of the songs are covers, there are several duets with other artists of a similar off-stream sensibility, and Lovett is said to be working on a disc of new, original material for release this fall. In the meantime, Smile will bring some sophisticated, tuneful sunshine to these long winter days. Bracketed by Irving Berlin's breezy "Blue Skies" and a relentless, almost punitive "I'm a Soldier in the Army of the Lord," this Hollywood-inspired, 12-tune recording is an erratic, ultimately endearing affair. The high points include a "Mack the Knife" imaginatively arranged by noir trumpeter Mark Isham, an emotionally complicated reading of "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You," and a throaty, sexy update of "What'd I Say" that sounds natural, even though Lovett probably never worked juke joints like the ones that inspired the classic Ray Charles composition.