Singer

Singer Lyle Lovett (R) and Buckwheat Zydeco perform at a show celebrating the music of Paul Simon at the Warner Theater in Washington, May 23, 2007. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Recording artist Lyle Lovett can talk for hours about the musicians he respects and attempts to emulate; men like Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark.

But suggest that up-and-coming musicians might view him as having similar stature, and the shy Texan politely begs to differ.

Well, I don't know that that's true, Lovett told Reuters in his courtly Texas drawl.

Lovett, 51, has just released his 14th album, Natural Forces, which combines new material with songs by Texas songwriters such as the late Van Zandt, Vince Bell and Eric Taylor, that have long been part of the musician's repertoire.

Lovett and his long-time ensemble, the Large Band, kick off a month of concerts on Monday with a show in Orange, Texas.

Lovett will then rest up before joining artists such as Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle in February for a cruising music festival in the Caribbean, and in March he will make his first tour of Australia.

Natural Forces is the second time Lovett has delved into the rich story-telling tradition of the Lone Star state to supplement his own quirky brand of writing, following 1998's double-disc Step Inside this House.

The songs on this latest record are all songs that have been part of my musical life since I was 18, Lovett said.

Lovett's own music distinctively melds folk, Texas swing, blues, jazz, gospel, and traditional country and western.

His lyrics often reveal a wry wit, and the songs are often as infused with Texas spirit as tumbleweed and wide open plains.

It's nice that people sound like where they're from, he said.

The musician lives in Klein, Texas, northwest of Houston, in the house once owned by his grandmother. An only child, Lovett's parents both worked in the oil industry.

RODEO, MOTOCROSS AND SONG WRITING

He dabbles in horse breeding, rodeo and motocross but has no interest in giving up his day job.

Having this long a career is not something I ever expected ...but anybody that gets to do something in his life that he loves to do, with the most talented people, is a lucky person.

Lovett said song-writing is an organic process.

My songs have always been a reflection of what's going on in my life, or just a stray thought that might be a reaction to something that's going on. It's not a terribly methodical or conscientious approach.

And not every song can be a winner.

I have songs that I'll never, certainly never tell anyone about, he said flatly. Because they're that bad.

Lovett said he keeps fresh on the road by remembering that each of his gigs will be a first for some of his audience.

It's never just 'push the button and roll tape.' It's never automatic ... You're standing on the edge of the cliff every day, and it's quite possible you could fall off.

Lovett has assembled four Grammy awards in his 20-year recording career, including best male country vocal performance and best country album.

His biggest brush with fame came with his 1993 marriage to actress Julia Roberts which threw the pair into the full glare of the Hollywood spotlight. The couple divorced in 1995.

The musician added acting to his resume in the 1990s with roles in a series of films by director Robert Altman, who died in 2006.

It was Altman's mastery, more than a love of acting, that got the musician in front of the cameras, he said.

Altman was such a supremely confident person and director. He was happy for anyone to watch him do anything he did. He was so open with his process. And I just found that to be extraordinary, and rare. Most people don't have the confidence to be that open.

From musicians and film directors to horse trainers and veterinarians, Lovett said the drive for excellence inspires him.

That's where life is, really. The ability to look forward with enthusiasm and hope -- if you can live like that, well, life is good.