Shelby Lynne is so old-fashioned, she’s practically brand-new.
The maverick country-rocker relishes her aged vinyl records. Is irritated by the fact that the Internet exists. Appreciates a bum note or two onstage - because singing, she says, isn’t supposed to be about vocal tricks and fireworks, and that’s why “American Idol” irritates her too.
At 39, the Nashville resident is too young to be a fogey. Or ... maybe not.
“People call me a dinosaur, and that’s fine. I am,” says Lynne from Nashville. “That doesn’t matter. It’s about what you want. It’s a taste thing.”
Saucy and sharp-tongued, Lynne knows a thing or two about flaunting good taste. For her latest album, “Just a Little Lovin’,” Lynne reached deep into the heralded songbook of the late British soul singer Dusty Springfield - the rich, smoky voiced singer to whom Lynne had often been compared.
The album wasn’t a commercial smash - peaking at No. 41 on the Billboard 200 - but Lynne doesn’t make the sorts of records that become commercial smashes in 2008. She doesn’t sweat it. Her following is relatively small, but it’s deeply loyal - a good thing, she says, “since I tend to jump around to different things and do whatever moves me musically.”
“I feel like the music will find its way. I’m 20 years into making records, and I never had a hit record,” she says. “But you know, I’m one of the lucky ones - I get to do whatever in the hell I want. I’m just going on the ride, and I don’t give a damn. I get to play music for a living. How lucky is that? I’m born to play music, and play music I will.”
Lynne is indeed a lucky one: She got a do-over. In 1999, she released her critically acclaimed breakthrough album “I Am Shelby Lynne,” dumping an ill-fitting career as a polished country-pop crooner. The rugged record was an artistic manifesto of sorts - and a departure radical enough to earn her the Grammys’ best new artist award despite her long tenure in the music biz.
“Music is supposed to be emotional. It’s supposed to strike chords in you that you didn’t know existed. You’re supposed to be naked with music,” Lynne says in a rust-colored, Alabama-bred accent that turns naked into nekkid . “It’s supposed to be an emotional ride, and you need to have a hangover after it.”
The older sister of alt-country singer Allison Moorer, Lynne endured a hardscrabble upbringing in southern Alabama before moving to Nashville in her teens to work the Music City club circuit. A series of stilted record deals followed, nearly forcing Lynne out of the industry in frustration before she found her calling with the soulful, real-deal “I Am Shelby Lynne.”
With her new label, the esteemed Lost Highway Records, Lynne says she’s finally found a home she likes, a place that’s “musical and artistic in everything they do - organic, but not just some weird little indie label.”
Lost Highway is glad to have her. Kim Buie, the label’s vice president of A&R, says Lynne’s musical demeanor recalls legendary stylists like Etta James: She doesn’t just sing songs; she owns them.
“You can give Shelby any song, and if she feels it, she’ll find a way to deliver it,” says Buie. “She not only has a great voice, she finds a way to put herself into the music. That’s what the great singers do.”
In concert, where Lynne and her four-piece band play a set that includes most of the songs on the new record, the singer gets really traditional. She spurns onstage monitors - the speakers that provide customized mixes for musicians to listen and play to. Lynne likes it raw and intimate, preferring to absorb the sound through the same house system heard by the crowd.
“The whole idea of live music is to have a connection with a live audience. We like to hear a crowd, to feel a crowd,” she says. “I like to get in and dig in and work for it. If you leave the audiences out, what’s the point? This is for them. It’s supposed to be something spontaneous and cool.”
And it doesn’t get much more old-school than that.