Comeback CDs by Guns N’ Roses, AC/DC and Metallica have made big noise in 2008. But one disc that’s just screaming for more attention is the best quiet album of the year, “Just a Little Lovin’” by Shelby Lynne.
Her music is a sultry purr to those rockers’ menacing roar. The quiet restraint of her late-night pop oozes a haunting soulfulness seldom heard in this era of loud “American Idol”- inspired vocal gymnasts.
Like Amy Winehouse, Lynne nods to the past, but makes music of the moment. The subtitle of her disc is “Inspired by Dusty Springfield,” the celebrated 1960s British soul siren who struggled with substance abuse before making a comeback in the 1980s and ‘90s.
“The greatest white singer that there has ever been,” Elton John said when inducting the voice of “Son of a Preacher Man” into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, just a few days after she died of cancer in 1999.
Lynne studied Springfield before jumping into this project. “I did read a few things, but you can’t believe what you read. She’s not here to defend herself,” Lynne said. “So I just rely on the music.”
While everything about Springfield was big - from her blond beehive to her orchestral arrangements, everything about Lynne’s disc is small.
It’s an after-midnight album - “or a Sunday-morning record,” said Lynne, her Alabama drawl sounding a bit sleepy as she spoke by phone from her Palm Springs, Calif., home, her dog barking in the background.
Lynne makes such ‘60s classics as “Anyone Who Had a Heart” and “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” feel lived in again. “The most important thing when you’re doing a cover record is to keep the song as the song is,” she said. “You can’t be changing its melody. But the groove is another thing. We just kind of molassesed it down.”
Lynne recorded with celebrated producer Phil Ramone, who has worked with everyone from Bob Dylan and Paul Simon to Aretha Franklin and Luciano Pavarotti. “I didn’t want to make a fancy record,” she said. “He’s a guy who understands that I like the real organic way of making records.”
Things clicked on the recording of the first song, “Just a Little Lovin’.”
“We just went in there on a Monday morning and just kind of found a groove,” Lynne recalled. “We were in a setup as a band, which I like. Everybody can see everybody. I remember looking at Gregg Field - he played the drums _before we started the first note and I said, ‘This is your record and my record. It’s all about you and me.’ So the grooves were kind of eye to eye. And it just took on this tone.”
Of course, to get into the proper mood, Lynne had a drink or two.
“I always have a drink or two,” she said with a chuckle.
Even in the morning?
PLAYING ‘THE HAND YOU’RE DEALT’
Over the course of recording 10 albums in 20 years, Lynne, who is 40, has developed a reputation as something of a Nashville problem child, a strong-willed party girl, a spitfire with her own opinions. She can be surly as well as sultry.
Lynne dislikes doing interviews and loathes discussing the defining family tragedy when, at 17, she and her younger sister, singer Allison Moorer, witnessed their father murder their mother and then kill himself.
Even as Lynne has startlingly switched styles from pop-country to western swing/jazz to Americana and this hushed Southern soul, her music has consistently reflected vulnerability and resilience. Where does her strength come from?
“Life circumstances, the hand that you’re dealt. You’ve got to play it,” she said. “I don’t have any complaints.”
In 1991, she won the Country Music Association’s Horizon award for best newcomer and 10 years later she grabbed the Grammy for best new artist, for her sixth album, the critically revered but slow-selling “I Am Shelby Lynne.”
That Grammy sits atop the cabinet in which she keeps her beloved vinyl album collection. She is enamored of LPs and their covers.
“You can’t roll a joint on an iPod,” she famously told the Los Angeles Times this year.
She does have an iPod for traveling, she says, but listens only to vinyl at home. She’s not much on computers; in fact, she’s doesn’t visit her MySpace page or website. (“The website is for fans, not for me,” she says.) She has downloaded only one album - Electric Light Orchestra’s “New World Order” - because she wore out her vinyl copy.
A fan gave her a vinyl copy of Springfield’s landmark “Dusty in Memphis,” a 1969 album that invariably turns up on lists of the greatest rock albums.
“It sounds a hell of a lot better than the reissues,” Lynne said of the original vinyl.
She feels the same about her own tribute to Springfield. She thinks the vinyl version sounds “way better” than the CD.
“I personally think everything does,” she said. “But it was a record recorded the way vinyl needs to be recorded.”