I’ve followed Shelby Lynne for a little bit now. Her 1990 album Tough All Over was the one that grabbed my attention. Now, Lynne doesn’t speak well of the album, or the songs. She felt trapped in the Nashville/record company machine, and was determined to escape it at all cost. Despite winning an ACM award for the release, she was determined to find herself as a songwriter and blaze her own path forward, Nashville be damned. Now, some 13 albums (plus one album with sister Allison Moorer, and a holiday release) and several record company collaborations later, Shelby Lynne returns with Shelby Lynne her self-titled 2020 release via Thirty Tigers on April 17th.
Like many, “I Am Shelby Lynne” was the album that stopped me in my tracks. It was different. This was no longer a die-cut manufactured country/pop factory artist. No, with that release 20 years ago, Lynne made a tremendously bold statement. Ironically, a statement that earned her a Best New Artist Grammy nomination and win, only a decade after her Epic Records debut, Sunrise. I Am Shelby Lynne combined a beautiful, substantive production atmosphere, confessional lyrics and elements of rootsy blues, jazz and smoky torch singers. I Am Shelby Lynne should be included in any meaningful discussion concerning the best albums in Americana. I’d argue, Lynne and that breakout album are examples of the best Americana has to offer. With Shelby Lynne, we see another powerful statement being made.
With her new self-titled release, Lynne returns to that torch singer vibe again, with an album that’s perfectly suited for a spin unwinding after a tiring day at work. The arrangements are sparse and stripped down, usually highlighted by only piano or a single guitar. Lynne plays much of the music herself, including a wonderful bit of saxophone on “My Mind’s Riot.” She also has recruited some top notch players here, including Benmont Tench, Ed Roth, Billy Mitchell and Mimi Friedman. Together they discover that elusive space that resides smack dab in the middle of country and jazz. There’s a lot of I Am Shelby Lynne mixed with her Dusty Springfield inspired album, Just A Little Lovin’. It’s a seductive, juxtapose of vulnerability and strength. It’s sweeping and expansive, full of emotion and contemplation. The real magic here, is the album captures Shelby Lynne to a “T.”
Lyrically, Lynne collaborated with screenwriter, Cynthia Mort (HBO’s “Tell Me You Love Me”) during the making of the (unreleased) full-length film. That film, When We Kill the Creators, stars Lynne as a main character created with the likes of Billie Holiday and Judy Garland in mind, and many of the songs here were live recordings done right on the set. Together, Lynne and Mort travel lush landscapes capturing the push-pull nature of love. The journey begins ominously with “Strange Things”, and closes with the film-like climatic flourish of “Love Fear.” Along the way, Lynne evokes longing and ache with “Revolving Broken Heart,” and exposed soul with “Don’t Even Believe in Love.” But it’s not all darkness. There’s also hope, confidence and tenacity displayed in “I Got You” and “Here I Am”.
“Standing next to you / Here I am no fear / No walking away” “Here I Am”
Shelby Lynne isn’t an album that will necessarily be best digested in one sitting. In fact, I would encourage the listener to slowly savor it. There’s nuances to be found, and the album’s perfect simplicity makes that an endearing venture. Thank God, Shelby Lynne is an artist rather than just a token “singer” at the industry’s beck and call. Here in 2020, she’s still pushing boundaries, and remaining true to herself, and I think we could all use a little more of that these days. Raw and intimate, Shelby Lynne is worth our attention. https://www.shelbylynne.com