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Lyle LovettLyle Lovett, Smile: Songs From the Movies (MCA/Curb 2003) - When I heard about Smile, my initial reaction was "So what?" To tell the truth, I'd largely written off Lyle Lovett.

But the 12 tracks on Smile: Songs From the Movies remind me that Lovett is a gifted interpreter of songs, with a idiosyncratic Texas jazz style. All I can say is, Julia Roberts made a mistake.

Lyle LovettLovett has enjoyed a sterling recording career, including Joshua Judges Ruth (1992) and The Road to Ensenada (1996). The Austin-based songwriter dabbled in Tinseltown in the 90s, working with director Robert Altman on such films as The Player and Shortcuts. Lovett is also appearing with his Large Band on the season premiere of the PBS series, "SoundStage."

Smile: Songs From the Movies is all about the song, beginning with an outstanding interpretation of "Blue Skies" (written by Irving Berlin, from the film, With Honors (1994). Also included is a jumped-up version of "What I'd Say" (the Ray Charles track), as well as a duet with Keb'Mo' on "Till It Shines" (the Bob Seger song) and a spin with Randy Newman on "You've Got a Friend in Me" (from 1995's Toy Story).

Lyle LovettYet the song that will stop you dead in your tracks, and make you completely re-evaluate Lyle Lovett, is his stunningly somber version of "Moritat (Mack the Knife)" from the 1994 film, Quiz Show. Lovett takes the track from Weill and Brecht's "Three Penny Opera" (not the sunny Bobby Darin hit) and gives it a splendid, mournful read, that will stay with you for days.

Lyle LovettThe album closes with Lovett's stalwart work on "I'm a Soldier in the Army of the Lord," from the Robert Duvall film, The Apostle (1997).

With an arrangement and trumpet solo by Mark Isham, "Moritat" is one of the most amazing recordings I have heard in the last several months. If you want a singer, a good song, and a clean arrangement, run for Smile: Songs From the Movies.

Bill EngvallBill Engvall, Cheap Drunk (Warner Bros. 2002) - Comedian Bill Engvall - appearing in the "Blue Collar Comedy Tour" movie - delivers his fifth comedy CD in Cheap Drunk. Working in a southern Everyman style, Engvall delivers funny bits about kids, family life, and quitting smoking.

Now living in Los Angeles, Engvall grew up in Galveston, Texas, and later moved to Dallas, where he worked as a disc jockey. Comedy success brought him to Los Angeles, where he landed a role on the NBC series, "The Jeff Foxworthy Show," starring as Jeff's best friend. Prior albums have included Here's Your Sign (1996) and Dorkfish (1998).

Bill EngvallCheap Drunk clocks in with 13 comedy tracks, followed by two musical numbers, obviously aiming for the FM morning audience.

The comedy bits about ordinary life strike a common vein. For example, "Driver's Ed" is about taking driving lessons with his 16-year old daughter, while "Cigarettes Equal Pain" include some very funny pieces in which Engvall bemoans the fact that his nicotine-based gum won't stay lit, and that the patches hurt his lips when he peels them off.

Bill EngvallThe best bit is "Grading Your Biological Output," which brought tears to my wife's eyes when she heard Bill talk about how his son's fifth grade teacher asked if ADD ran in the family. Comments Engvall, who is describing a stultifying parent-teacher conference, "Now by this time, I'm looking at birds out the window . . . Ooh, shiny object!"

Cheap Drunk is comedy for the family, with a safe PG-13 rating. You'll get a kick out of Bill Engvall.

ErasureErasure, Other People's Songs (Mute 2003) - Andy Bell and Vince Clarke, the duo known as Erasure, have been making technopop since 1985. The pair launch an interesting 12-track set in Other People's Songs, consisting of (not surprisingly) covers of songs written by other persons.

Let Andy Bell explain how he focused the band's electronic-based sound on this material. "I was already thinking that there are so many tunes out there I would love to do as a singer. So part of it was coming from the prospective from a singer who loves great songs. At the same time, I was toying with the idea of doing a solo project . . . I remember when I was living at home, I didn't realize how influenced I was by my parents' records."

ErasureAs work on the album progressed, partner Vince Clarke was brought on board, with producer Gareth Jones. Says Vince, "It is quite interesting because when you choose your favorite song, it is not necessarily the song that's going to work best when we recorded it as Erasure. My favorite songs are set in time and history, and they're to do with my youth, and so sometimes the songs that I thought 'oh, they are fantastic" didn't work, because we couldn't reproduce anything better than the originals."

ErasureGoing all the way back to his work with Yazoo, Vince Clarke has a solid pedigree in English technopop. And so, tracks like "Solsbury Hill" (by Peter Gabriel), "Video Killed the Radio Star" (by the Buggles), and particularly, "Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)" (by Steve Harley and The Cockney Rebel) work, with a bouncy feel.

However, the 50's tracks, like "Everyday" (by Buddy Holly) and "Can't Help Falling in Love" (by Elvis Presley) have less impact.

Other People's Songs is a clean concept album, with some well-thought-out numbers.

- Randy Krbechek © 2003

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