Lyle Lovett and Julia Roberts had been divorced for over a year by the time his sixth album, The Road to Ensenada, was released. As a devoted fan of great breakup albums (and someone who has occasionally needed them like a salve on a burn), I was primed to hear this masterful songwriter uncork his misery. After all, what is country music but the official anthem of tear-dappled beer? The genre is at his best when a partner has gone an done another wrong. Heartbreak certainly takes up residence on the album, although no more so than on any of Lovett’s other releases (once again, these are country music records we’re discussing here). That might be attributable to the the fact that the uncoupling was reportedly as gentle and amicable as they come. I think it’s probably more pertinent to note that at the point this record was released it had been a long time since Lovett had generated an album of all-new material. In the span between those records, he met, courted, married, and divorced a woman who went toe-to-toe with Tom Cruise for the designation of biggest movie star in the world. To the degree than an album is the autobiography of a songwriter, The Road to Ensenada tells that whole story.
I’m convinced Roberts is all over this record. It surely can’t be a coincidence that her unique middle name provides the title for the song “Fiona,” which tells of a woman with a crazy brother who “just might bite you.” I was invested enough in the gossipy side of the album’s release that cracking the code to discover precisely when Lovett’s was drawing on his own experience was one of the pleasures of listening. And no song felt more like a wistful, appreciative memoir than the hidden track at the end of the CD (the mid-nineties was the heyday of hidden tracks). “The Girl in the Corner” follows a man as he moves around a party, always trying to connect with the enthralling woman of the title. I’m so sure that the song is inspired by Lovett’s first encounter with Roberts that I feel like I can also identify some of the other partygoers name-checked in the song, such as tall Tim and smart Susan and Frances who “looked like a fine work of art.” Coming at the end of the album, tucked in there ever so discreetly, if this can be interpreted as Lovett’s last word on the relationship, it’s a surprisingly sweet and affectionate one. It may be the opposite of what I was expecting and even hoping for, but that makes it no less satisfying.
Of course, I could be completely wrong about all this. Maybe every song is pure fiction, the names all selected roughly at random or at least with no more consideration than how they fit into the melody and rhyming structure of the respective songs. It doesn’t matter. I can throw the extra baggage onto the car as it romps by or listen to the songs without a care for more intricate meaning. They’re great either way.
Listen or download –> Lyle Lovett, “The Girl in the Corner”
(Disclaimer: As I reported last time I shared a Lovett song in this space, I’m shocked at how little of the sterling artist’s back catalog seems to still be in print, at least as physical objects that can be procured from your favorite local, independently-owned record store in a manner that compensates both the fella from Texas and the proprietor of said shop. This song is shared here with the belief that doing so impedes no fair commerce and might even drive folks to check out more of Lovett’s material. It’s all first-rate. Fair as I may think it is to share this song in the space and in this manner, I will gladly and promptly remove it if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)