Successful as he became, though, something was still missing for Workman. He’d released a trio of well-received solo albums in the ’90s and early 2000s, but as his sideman and film composing careers exploded, he found that he had to put his own artistic visions on the backburner.
“I absolutely love all the work I get to do with other artists and filmmakers,” he explains, “but sometimes you need to articulate your own thoughts and feelings as a writer, too. There’s a singular satisfaction that comes from creating something that’s a pure expression of yourself.”
And so, Workman embarked on the epic journey that would become Uncommon Measures, beginning at first by shutting off his mind and simply letting the music flow in his Los Angeles studio. From those improvised guitar and keyboard sessions, he began shaping discrete songs, some short and sweet, others clocking in at ten minutes and consisting of multiple suites and movements. Next, he assembled an all-star band to help flesh out the core material, tapping drummers Vinnie Colaiuta (Joni Mitchell, Frank Zappa) and Matt Chamberlain (Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen) along with bassist Tim Lefebvre (David Bowie, Wayne Krantz) and pedal steel wizard Greg Leisz (Eric Clapton, Jackson Browne,) among other A-Listers. Finally, with the intoxicating grooves of a fully realized rhythm section in place, Workman began the lengthy back-and-forth process of creating orchestral arrangements with John Ashton Thomas, the orchestrator extraordinaire behind films like Black Panther and Captain Marvel.
“For the most part, I’d start with an orchestral mockup using computer samples, which John would then take and run with,” says Workman. “On the track “Arc of Life,” though, I used guitar to map out the harmony and counterpoint intended for strings, woodwinds, and brass, and then had John apply it to the orchestral domain along with his own brilliant embellishments, which make the piece even more grand and dynamic. John and I grew up with the same influences, so there’s a personal and professional kinship between the two of us, along with a deep mutual respect for each other’s musicianship, that made the record such a joy
When it came time to record the orchestra, Thomas cherry-picked 63 of London’s finest players and gathered them at Abbey Road for nine-and-a-half hours of pure magic. The session was a “pinch me” moment for Workman, both as a kid who grew up obsessed with The Beatles and as a composer finally seeing his vision come to life.
“Being in that studio with the orchestra playing my songs, it was like hearing everything go from black and white to Technicolor,” he explains. “They added a soul and a humanity to everything that was just so beautiful and three dimensional.”
That soul and humanity lies at the heart of Uncommon Measures, which showcases not only Workman’s unparalleled musicianship, but also his profound empathy and expansive emotional vocabulary. Tracks like the dizzying “North Star” and pulse-pounding “All The Colors Of The World” balance breakneck guitar runs and instrumental fireworks with moments of deep calm and poignant reflection, while more playful tunes like the ecstatic “Noble Savage” and funky, horn-fueled “Unsung Hero” revel in the joys of creative freedom. As the record progresses, Workman finds himself looking inwards more and more, appreciating the beauty in melancholy with the meditative “Labyrinth Of Love” and finding hope for the future on the expansive “Rise And Shine.” As varied as the tracks here are—the final song, “Our Friendship,” is actually a Thomas composition inspired by the pair’s working relationship—there’s an underlying cohesiveness that binds the collection as a whole, a unified approach to the music rooted in a radical exploration and embrace of the self.
“If there’s any one thing that ties all of these songs together,” says Workman, “it’s the power of expressing yourself at all costs, of free falling into the music with complete abandon. When I’m working on a film or someone else’s record, there are always parameters to follow and opinions to consider, but here, there were no boundaries at all. I could do anything I wanted.”
For an artist like Lyle Workman, when the possibilities are infinite, the infinite becomes possible. “Uncommon Measures” is proof of that.