Music

Shelby Lynne Makes a Clear Statement on 'Shelby Lynne'

Photo: Amanda Demme / Courtesy of All Eyes Media

Shelby Lynne carves out just one aspect of its creator's versatility. At times, it can feel a little thin, but Lynne's personality and vocal skills carry it through.

Shelby Lynne
Shelby Lynne

Thirty Tigers

17 April 2020

Shelby Lynne's self-titled album (not to be confused with I Am Shelby Lynne from a couple of decades ago) comes as a smooth piece of pop, but a strange bit of work to be titled after the artist. These songs stem largely from a collaboration with lyricist/filmmaker Cynthia Mort as part of an unreleased film titled When We Kill the Creators. The movie provided a space for live recording but didn't necessarily offer context for the songs. That they've come about this way as part of another project explains the cohesion and the tone of the record, but it also means we're listening to an odd chapter in Lynne's career. Stripped of the film's look at the tension between artistic choice and commercial drive (a narrative that would suit Lynne), the album offers a look at one particular side of Lynne, the latest in her twisty career.

Lynne has Americana roots, but, even in her work with sister Allison Moorer, those have become harder to see. What could have been country has been pop, jazz, blues, whatever mix she finds at the time. Shelby Lynne the record turns more toward her jazz influences, with that her Dusty Springfield tribute work not far behind. The Peggy Lee connection comes clear on this record, with Lynne's careful work on phrasing and delivery, making a case for both art and commerce (though maybe less of the latter in 2020).

The focus sharpens even further as Lynne plays most of the instruments on the record, including, surprisingly, saxophone on "My Mind's Riot". About half of the lyrics come from Mort, but the music plays like the singular work of Lynne. She plays it cool, sparse instrumentation (mostly just piano, guitar, light drums), clearing the way for her vocals. That space allows the torch singer side of Lynne to come out, and it also allows her to deliver herself with as little mediation as possible. The album's title begins to make sense as Lynne structures the disc to make sense as a direct presentation.

With that approach, she displays surprising sides of love. Frequently we encounter heartbreak (no surprise there), but we also find a calm revelation of the possibilities of unexpected feelings, whether we want them or not. "Don't Even Believe in Love", one of the few numbers with an actual backing band, sounds like a 50-year-old classic, the radio tuned for a late morning even if the thinking on it probably keeps the singer up at night.

The album ends with a brief number "Lovefear", with its out-of-place production but simple summation. "I would rather have a thousand men pointing guns at me / Than this love fear running through my veins," Lynne sings. After the engagement with confusion and points of hope offered throughout the record, it's a strange outro, a little ambiguous but seemingly cut-off before being developed. It fits the relaxed nature of the work but also undermines its patient reflections. Shelby Lynne carves out just one aspect of its creator's versatility. At times (as with the ending), it can feel a little thin, but Lynne's personality and vocal skills carry it through.

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