LISTENING STATION: Lyle Lovett, Estelle

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Release Me

Lyle Lovett

Curb Records

★★★

Lyle Lovett is finally ready to leave Curb Records, his record label for more than 25 years. Before he becomes a free agent, though, he’ll release one final album to fulfill his contract.

“Release Me” makes no attempt to hide its real agenda. This is contract filler, pure and simple, with a punny album title and symbolic cover shot - a black-and-white image of Mr. Lovett, his arms and legs bound together by rope to drive the point home. As if that weren’t enough of a kiss-off, the album focuses almost exclusively on cover songs, as though Mr. Lovett couldn’t be bothered to waste his originals on another Curb release.

As dashed-off as it may sound on paper, though, “Release Me” is actually pretty good. Part of the appeal is Mr. Lovett’s voice, which has toughened with age but still sounds smooth and sweet, like whiskey mixed with honey. The material is eclectic, too, touching upon most of the far-flung styles that he recorded during his time with Curb.

There are tenderhearted country ballads, fiery blues songs, classy jazz duets and dusty Americana rockers. There are cameos by simpatico roots-rock musicians like k.d. lang and Kat Edmonson. There’s even some gospel singing, proof that “Release Me” has a serious conscience beneath all the fun and games.

Mr. Lovett contributes two of his own songs to “Release Me,” both of them holiday tunes, but he sounds more convincing on the covers. Charley Jordan’s “Keep It Clean,” a prime piece of Depression-era blues, is turned into a swinging country number, and Chuck Berry’s “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” is presented as a slowed-down, midtempo soul song.

There’s no disguising Mr. Lovett’s motive - you can almost hear the excitement in his voice, the desire for independence after nearly three decades of label partnership - but “Release Me” is a proper send-off, one that pays tribute to the work he did under Curb’s umbrella.

All Of Me

Estelle

HomeSchool/Atlantic Records

★★ 1/2

It took three long years to make “All Of Me,” Estelle’s third album. The effort shows … but not always in the right way.

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