Lyle Lovett's razor-sharp music is as good as roots pop gets, and the poker-faced Texan's sixth album, The Road to Ensenada, is his best yet. Musically, it's a seamless amalgam of styles, from the big-band Western swing of ''That's Right (You're Not From Texas)'' to the samba of ''Her First Mistake'' to the shaggy, winning folk-rock lope of ''I Can't Love You Anymore.'' Lovett's as crabby as ever in ''Don't Touch My Hat,'' he lets us know he'll take a good piece of Western headgear over a woman every time. What has always humanized his misanthropy is that he aims his barbs at himself, too. Lovett goes beyond finger-pointing into true satire; what he's saying is ''Lord, what fools we mortals be.''
In the past, Lovett has been accused of hiding behind sarcasm and an absurdist's touch. We might've expected him to mask his feelings even more zealously than usual in these songs after all, his marriage to Julia Roberts was breaking up as he wrote them. Which makes one of Ensenada's strongest virtues, its candor, all the more surprising. The album begins breezily enough, but the sky soon darkens. ''Honey, the way you treat me, I can't even tell who I am,'' the narrator gripes in ''It Ought to Be Easier.'' In ''I Can't Love You Anymore,'' he tells his ''angel in distress'' that he'll get over her. What Lovett has given us, in his oblique fashion, is a song cycle about love gone sour. The last tune, ''The Girl in the Corner,'' hints at new beginnings. Though its party-going narrator can't help staring at the girl of the title, who's ''more than pretty'' but ''never alone,'' he leaves with another. Turning his back on heartbreak, Lovett heads down the road, bruised but game. And he still has that hat. A