Despite a decade-long hiatus, 12th of June picks up right where Lovett’s sound left off, for better and worse.
A full decade removed from his last release, Lyle Lovett returns with 12th of June, the result of stockpiling songs across that period of time and waiting for the moment when a record felt right. That lossless extends to the album’s character, which bears a lightheartedness capable of penetrating the most jaded defenses, all backed by a healthy focus on the instrumentation of the musician’s famous band.
The album’s title is a reference to the birthday of Lovett’s twin children, and it was largely inspired by them, with songs like “Pants is Overrated” being a simple narration of his day-to-day life getting his kids ready for the day. It’s a simple track, but charming, hitting all the right notes one would expect from such a song. It’s also an appropriate segue into Lovett’s late-career sound. It’s hard to place his genre in a box these days: while his early career can pretty comfortably be umbrella’d under country, this record comes with a bigger, swaggering swing band feel. The progression certainly makes sense, the byproduct of Lovett slowly bringing musicians into his fold over the years, recruiting talented individuals for what he lovingly refers to as his “large band.” Here, they toss around between sounds and genres, playfully peppering in wide-reaching influences, from swinging jazz hooks to folk pluckings to blues riffs. It’s certainly an amiable jumble, but unfortunately doesn’t build to much beyond that easy pleasantness.
There’s also not much of a throughline thematically on 12th of June, which makes it so that the tracks tend to bleed into each other a bit over time — this makes for easy listening, but given Lovett’s musical tradition, does feel a bit soft. This isn’t to say the effect is bad by any means, but it also doesn’t feel like a major artistic product built up over the course of a decade. No new ground is being broken or even tread, but then again, it doesn’t particularly feel like he’s trying to do so. On its face this feels frustratingly unambitious, as Lovett was known for shifting the style of the genre in the early ‘90s, but there’s no denying that the sum still goes down easily, nor that the artist is still performing an album of Lyle Lovett songs, which is payoff plenty in itself.
Many artists spend creative droughts trying to reinvent themselves and their persona, an attempt to become a new artist or brand a new personal artistry. Lyle Lovett instead leans comfortably into his old grooves on 12th of June, like someone settling into a beloved mattress. After a decade’s disappearing act, it’s a bold move in its easy confidence, and he forgoes any phoenix-from-the-ashes act and sticks to what’s worked well for the past 30 years. But despite that sort of sly conceptual boldness, it remains a distinctly safe record, agreeably warm but destined to leave many listeners wishing for something grander.
Published as part of Album Roundup — May 2022 | Part 2.