Song of the Day #424: ‘Fiona’ – Lyle Lovett

ensenadaAnd so it came to pass that, in 1986, Lyle Lovett released his finest album, The Road to Ensenada. Lovett’s early albums are so uniformly excellent that it’s difficult to single one out as number one, but Ensenada blends some of his best songs with perfect performances and production and it’s also his most successful marriage yet of the heartfelt and the humorous.

On the heartfelt side, you have several songs inspired by his divorce from Julia Roberts, just a year or so after their unlikely marriage. I remember I was living at home when Lovett and Roberts married and my mother told me the news one morning when I was half asleep. When I made my way downstairs, I had to ask her if I’d dreamed that conversation. It was that bizarre a concept.

However ill-fated the pairing, it resulted in some excellent songs. ‘It Ought To Be Easier’ is one of the rawest songs Lovett has written, a portrait of a man unwilling to admit that his wife no longer needs him.

I look at you when you’re sleeping
And I think about how it could be
If you would wake up and open your arms
And hold me

But you look at me when you wake up
With eyes that are angry and mean
And I turn away and walk into the kitchen
And I pray for the strength to leave

Because it ought to be easier
When you turn your lights down low
And it ought to be easier
To leave when you know that you have to go

‘I Can’t Love You Anymore’ is another of Lovett’s country-ready heartbreak songs, with this clever couplet in its chorus: “I don’t love you any less, but I can’t love you anymore.” But the verses speak to a much deeper wound:

This Georgia road is red
The Georgia sky is blue
And it looks just like the sky
That carried me to you
The good Lord up in heaven knows
What I’ve been going through
And he’s whispering to me
That I’ll get over you

And the dirge-like ‘Christmas Morning’ really drives the point home:

We stood at the altar and you held my hand
And everyone watched as the preacher he asked
Will you take him and love him for bad and for good
You looked at me then you told him you would

But hey what did you mean by that
Perhaps I’m the fool you take me for
Not anything more

But I don’t want to give the impression this album is a downer. It also features songs both charming and funny. Opener ‘Don’t Touch My Hat’ (as in “you can have my girl but don’t touch my hat”) is a hilarious country gem, while ‘That’s Right (You’re Not from Texas)’ is a swinging honkytonk masterpiece in which Lovett assures his listeners that “Texas wants you anyway.”

I’m deliberately leaving out two of the best songs on this album, and therefore in Lovett’s whole catalog — ‘Her First Mistake’ and ‘The Road to Ensenada.’ I have a feeling I’ll be revisiting those songs in depth on this blog, not this week but sometime soon.

Today’s song, ‘Fiona,’ is one of the twin musical inspirations for my youngest daughter’s name (the other being Ms. Apple). It’s a comic love song driven by an acoustic guitar and a to-die-for fiddle and it contains one of Lovett’s most impressive vocal performances — try hitting a couple of those long notes without gasping for air.

Way down yonder on the bayou
There lives a little girl, oh
Skin so pale
Six feet high
Skinny as a rail
Just one eye

She’s the one-eyed Fiona

Her daddy gone to heaven
Her mama won’t like you
Her brother he’s crazy
He just might bite you
Her sister she’s pretty
But she just won’t do

She’s the one-eyed Fiona

Oh you can say she gonna love you
Because you made a little voodoo
Oh but what they didn’t tell you
Is it ain’t up to you dude

You better not cross her
You try to boss her
Then you better duck Mister
Here come a cup and saucer

She’s the one-eyed Fiona

So if you’re going to the bayou
Man I’ll tell you all I know
She’s got skin so pale
She’s six feet high
And she’ll look right through you
With just one eye

She’s the one-eyed Fiona

7 thoughts on “Song of the Day #424: ‘Fiona’ – Lyle Lovett

  1. Amy says:

    Since you promise to revisit at least two of my favorite songs from this album, I’ll humor your sentimental choice in choosing this SOTD. I always found it amusing to hear you say that this song provided at least partial inspiration for Fiona’s name, as I imagine the conversation between her and you, as she listens to the lyrics and wonders what exactly her parents were thinking 🙂

    I’m also a little surprised you didn’t mention the album’s hidden song, which actually is so sweet in its depiction of the start of that ill-fated romance.

    Finally, I”d have to agree with you that this is his finest album, despite the strong competition that you’ve already featured. I also particularly love the sequence of the songs on this album – it’s one of those handful of albums that make me want to listen to it in the exact order each song was placed – iPod shuffle be damned.

  2. Dana says:

    At the risk of upsetting my niece named in part after this song, I must admit that this has never been one of my favorites. I like the verses well enough, but the chorus just grates on me–just too repetitive.

    I also must demurrer from annointing this as Lyle’s best album. That honor, as I stated previously, goes to the far less country albums Joshua Judges Ruth and Large Band. I would, however, probably put Ensenada third. I love the fun spirit of “Don’t Touch My Hat” and That’s Right You’re Not From Texas,” but THE best song, for me. is “Her First Mistake” It is the perfect combination of great lyrics, great music and great rhythm. I look forward to you featuring it as your SOTD, hopefully sooner than later.

  3. Amy says:

    demurrer –
    1 : a response in a court proceeding in which the defendant does not dispute the truth of the allegation but claims it is not sufficient grounds to justify legal action
    2 : objection

    Let the pretentious police be notified – STAT

  4. Clay says:

    Yes, I think Dana has had his license to call out pretentious word choices revoked!

    I agree with you about his top three albums, though in a different order. Ensenada then Judges then Large Band for me.

  5. Dana says:

    I have no idea what the two of you are talking about:)

  6. Andrea Katz says:

    Demurrer…I must demurrer. I want to hear you pronounce this ten times and use it in 3 sentences, Dana.
    Clearly, I need to learn about Lyle Lovett. Thanks for the education, Clay 🙂

  7. Tom says:

    This is a terrific song, but no writeup of it – or search for its true meaning – is complete without noting that “Fiona” is Julia Roberts’ middle name. (I swear to God – look it up.)

    Also, I believe the correct use of the word is, “I also must *demur* from…” That’s the verb; “demurrer” is the noun.

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