While Lyle Lovett and His Large Band wasn't a massive chart hit, it was successful enough to establish an audience for Lovett outside the boundaries of the country market, and 1992's Joshua Judges Ruth found Lovett seemingly free to follow his muse wherever it cared to go. Joshua Judges Ruth only bore the faintest glimmers of Lovett's country leanings (notable exception: "She's Leaving Me Because She Really Wants To"), and more surprisingly it suggested he was also moving away from the broad-shouldered jazz and blues accidents that dominated much of Pontiac and Large Band. Compared to his previous work, Joshua Judges Ruth sounds startlingly spare -- producer and engineer George Massenburg brings a clear and keenly detailed sound to these sessions that allows all the details of the low-key arrangements to be heard, and "She's Already Made Up Her Mind," "Baltimore," and "Family Reserve" seem to have been recorded with this in mind. The songs also reflect a shift toward more serious and introspective themes for Lovett; outside of the gospel-influenced "Church" and the easygoing "She Makes Me Feel Good," his trademark humor is conspicuous in its absence, and loss, loneliness, and heartbreak dominate the lyrics. While the craft of Joshua Judges Ruth ranks with the finest work of Lovett's career, its spare and sober surfaces aren't especially engaging, and it's the sort of album fans are more likely to admire than embrace with pleasure.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming