There are outlaws and then there are outlaws. The old-fashioned country kind, your Waylons and Willies, were a step or two above horse thieves, sure, but still rough-edged and not particularly spic and span hygenically speaking. Lyle Lovett, in contrast, is a white-collar criminal who’s living out his life in luxury. His newset, Joshua Judges Ruth, is a typically subversive country-pop-gospel comer that mixes his penetrating sardonicism with warm, impeccable production. Lovett’s not a first-rate songwriter yet, and this has always been his biggest weakness: sometimes his songs are more fun to talk about than actually listen to. But the novelty charmers (like “Church,” in which spiritual hunger meets the physical sort, and the Randy Newman-ish grotesque “Family Reserve”) carry the day. Cash, the daughter of Johnny’s first marriage, was a somewhat vapid 80s country-chart powerhouse until she divorced herself (figuratively) from hired-gun songwriters and (literally) from producer-husband Rodney Crowell. Now she writes and produces her own searching and luminous albums. A reluctant star, she’s cautious both onstage and on record; but her impressive growth has led to surprising depth in her romantic tales, which on one level or another act as metaphors for her progress out of the prehistoric politics of modern country as well. And her insecurity live merely increases the intimacy. Saturday, 8 PM, Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State; 443-1130 or 559-1212.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Peter nash, Pam Springsteen.