Release Me marks the end of Lyle Lovett’s career-long run with Curb Records—he first signed with the label in 1985, at age 28. While its hodgepodge of holiday songs, covers, duets, ballads, rockers, swing, bluegrass and even an instrumental initially smacks of randomness, it also points toward the open-minded eclecticism that has sustained Lovett throughout his career. He has never been a conventional country singer, nor has he fit comfortably with his fellow Texan singer-songwriters—weather-beaten troubadours like Guy Clark and the late Townes Van Zandt (even though he’s often recorded their songs). His unpredictability and willingness to extend his reach has kept Lovett’s material fresh, and this new collection works precisely because of its willy-nilly nature.
The two holiday tracks–the standard “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (a duet with Austin vocalist Kat Edmonson) and the Lovett original “The Girl With the Holiday Smile”–were released separately as part of an EP prior to the 2011 holiday season, and their inclusion here is somewhat superfluous. But the album’s other dozen tracks, from the opening fiddle tune “Garfield’s Blackberry Blossom” to the slowed-down, acoustic take on Chuck Berry’s “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” and the soul-rocking closer “Isn’t That So” shape Release Me into something of a guided tour of Lovett’s diverse tastes. The title track—a ballad hit for Ray Price, Kitty Wells and crooner Engelbert Humperdinck—is played straight, while the breakneck “White Freightliner Blues” and the tender “Dress of Laces” (previously cut by Lovett and Nanci Griffith), flesh out the album’s something-for-everyone approach. –Jeff Tamarkin