I Am Shelby Lynne
Insecurity can be a good thing. Take the example of Nashville chanteuse Shelby Lynne. Judging from the title of her mightily impressive sixth album, Lynne has one hell of a self-esteem problem. It's hard to see why, though.
Like Dwight Yoakam and k.d. lang before her, Lynne wants to be a thinking man's hillbilly. Toward that goal she has created an album that channels the spirits of Patsy Cline, soul diva Dinah Washington, and legendary '60s producer Phil Spector. That a singer would even attempt to accomplish such a stunt is testament to Lynne's gall, and damned if she doesn't pull it off. With its righteous uptown harmonies, sloppy instrumental flourishes, and earthy production, I Am Shelby Lynne sounds like it was recorded during an early-morning whiskey bender. This is roots music the way God intended -- roughhewn and spontaneous.
On her well-executed but inconsequential 1993 debut Temptations, Lynne performed jitterbug-bop shuffles that never quite caught fire. The new album is cut from a more vibrant cloth. Lynne comes out swinging on the opening track, a Shakespearean slab of cosmopolitan twang titled "Your Lies." Producer Bill Bottrell veritably soaks Lynne's vocals in reverb here, resulting in a window-rattling sound that might have the neighbors dialing 911. On her starlit soul ballad "Leavin'," Lynne's woebegone sentiments are offset by shimmering gospel harmonies reminiscent of Ray Charles' Raylettes. And just when you thought it couldn't get any better, Lynne plays her trump card: "Easier" is an R&B ballad of such surpassing sensuality, it would make Al Green cheer in approval.
In fact every song here evokes some high-water mark in pop history. The winsome and fanciful "Dreamsome" sounds like a Dionne Warwick/Burt Bacharach ballad, while "Why Can't You Be" features dizzy horns reminiscent of The Band. "Gotta Get Back" is an elegant backwater ballad that recreates the vibe of Bobbie Gentry's 1967 classic, "Ode to Billie Joe."
I Am Shelby Lynne is so delightfully inspired that its title, in the end, seems more like a statement of affirmation than doubt. God forbid anyone should confuse a singer-songwriter this good with Shania Twain. The name's Shelby Lynne -- and don't you forget it. -- Bruce Britt
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