Daily Song Study

Lyle Lovett – North Dakota

In songs on January 2, 2012 at 7:28 pm

We’ve covered the genius of Lovett’s songwriting here before, but this is a perfect example of a case where the study of the arrangement is as important as the study of the tune.

The signature percussion intro sets the tone, as does the always-astonishing piano of Matt Rollings, which gives way to the acoustic guitar. Both parts are bridged by Dean Parks’ atmospheric guitar swells, which always add a cinematic air to Lovett’s tunes (a likely reason why he is a favorite in the arsenals of directors like Robert Altman). And you can certainly never fail by having Leland Sklar and Russ Kunkel for a rhythm section. To the spare lead vocals, add some help from Rickie Lee Jones, and the palette is heartbreakingly beautiful.

Lovett is a master of not leaving well enough alone, and in the best possible way. About the time the listener gets a grasp of the tune, he adds odd little elements like the sudden stray chord in the third verse or changing the last line of each chorus.

The arrangement speaks to the lyrics, suggesting big sky and old borderlands, but not in the klunky red dirt style. Lovett has always been the thinking man’s country singer, and passages like this one bring the listener both mentally and viscerally into the song’s world:

Now the weather’s getting colder
Hell, it’s even cold down here
And the words that you have spoken
Hang frozen in the air
And sometimes I look right through them
As if they were not there

And yet with this arrangement, it’s almost not even country music. Or rather, it’s country music that has not allowed itself to be defined by its peers. A worthy goal.

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  2. That was amazing.

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