It’s Not Big It’s Large was recorded with Lyle Lovett’s famous touring band, who also supported and provided the title to his 1989 record Lyle Lovett and His Large Band. Large Band is a fan favorite, and while you can’t blame the guy for trying to revisit past glories, it’s still a touch disappointing to think that you’ve heard it all before. There’s the Gospel-tinged Lovett (“I Will Rise Up/Ain’t No More Cane”), the moody balladeer (“Don’t Cry A Tear,” “The Alley Song”), the big brass jazz bandleader (“Tickle Toe”), the Randy-Newman-by-way-of-Guy-Clark jokester (“All Downhill”), and so on. Granted, that’s a stack of genres to master, and with the Large Band in top form, It’s Not Big is still an energizing listen. Like watching a master chef cook an omelet or scramble eggs, there’s a scrumptious confidence to the easy and the familiar. But there’s good familiar—the beautiful “Alley Song” is a sister tune to Large Band‘s masterful “Nobody Knows Me”—and lame familiar, such as when Lovett recycles a joke from “Skinny Legs” on “Make It Happy” (instead of singing the word “ass” he emits a soft grunt). Also, of the 12 tracks, there are two versions of “Up in Indiana” and one-and-a-half of “Ain’t No More Cane,” once as part of a medley and once on its own. So, even at a hefty 57 minutes, the listener feels short-changed.
Like Ryan Adams’s Easy Tiger, It’s Not Big feels like a genius songwriter working on autopilot. Adams and Lovett’s label, Lost Highway—named after the Hank Williams tune and hyped with the slogan “get lost”—wants to bring the outlaw spirit back to country music; they’ve nabbed up every non-CMT friendly, big- and medium-named country legend around, alive or dead, and run them through a promotional whirligig of black-drenched webpages, bold text block letters, and Anton Corbijn-inspired promo photos. So why do all their releases lack the freshness and energy that made us love these artists to begin with? It’s been four years since the last Lyle Lovett album (and it was nearly seven for the batch of original tunes before that), and that’s reason enough for celebration. Hopefully in the next four-to-seven, he’ll come back a little reenergized.