The Lone Star alliance of Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen, a friendship that dates to the mid-'70s, is wonderfully reconstituted at the end of the former's fine new album, Natural Forces.
On a jointly penned romp titled It's Rock and Roll, Lovett speaks in his dry Texas tenor of glitzy fame, when "the bright lights fall down on you and the money does the name" before a Slash-like guitar riff shatters the serenity.
The song is only partly tongue-in-cheek, as Americana accents dominate the rest of Natural Forces and all of Keen's album The Rose Hotel.
Natural Forces is essentially two albums in one. It sports four new originals, excluding It's Rock and Roll, and six covers of works by esteemed Texas songwriters that reprise the stately warmth of Lovett's sublime 1998 tribute record, Step Inside This House.
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Of the new songs, the home-cooked double entendres of Pantry offer the most immediate enticement. But Empty Blue Shoes, with its richly languid blues sentiments ("your mother might hold you forever but forever won't hold you for long") and the title song's dark imagery of natural forces and unnatural migration satisfy more deeply.
The Texas material, as with Step Inside This House, sounds regal. Eric Taylor's Whooping Crane has an almost meditative unease, and Vince Bell's Sun and Moon and Stars outlines solitary but eerily elegant despondency. In comparison, Townes Van Zandt's Loretta sounds surprisingly hopeful, a vision of home on an album where sentiments are as scattered as storms along distant Texas plains.
Keen mines more familiar turf on The Rose Hotel with tunes that tuck brief minor-chord colors into highly accessible choruses to heighten the mix of drama and sometimes wry but human humor. Such devices abound on Something I Do, a reggae-fied lowlife anthem with a cha-cha-cha beat and the album's title tune story line of intended but missed connections. Keen also covers Van Zandt by way of a darkly fantastical reading of Flyin' Shoes.
But the kicker is Wireless in Heaven, a smart honky-tonk yarn that ponders Internet connections to the hereafter with a melody that morphs from country to bluegrass.
Sure, the tune might search for an ISP in heaven. But its lyrical and melodic drive come from deep in the heart of you-know-where.
■ Lyle Lovett and His Large Band perform at 8:30 p.m. Oct. 30 at the Norton Center for the Arts at Centre College in Danville. Tickets are $60-$125. Call (877) 448-7469. www.nortoncenter.com.
■ Robert Earl Keen, Todd Snider and Bruce Robison perform at 7 p.m. Nov. 5 at the Lexington Opera House. Tickets are $22.50-$32.50. Call (859) 233-3535 or Ticketmaster, 1-800-745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com.