Archive for August 2011

Why yes, Shelby, you certainly are…

Shelby Lynne has always been quite a chameleon, particularly early on in her career when it seemed she was still finding her groove — she’s done country, blues, swing, jazz, pop, rock, and most things in between. It seems that it took a while for her to find her way, but once she did, ’round about the time of her 2000 album, I Am Shelby Lynne, it all fell very nicely into place. That album, as the title implies, was a statement of her arrival as a musical force to be reckoned with, blending equal parts country, soul, and roots rock into a very cohesive whole, drawing favorable comparisons to both Dusty Springfield’s classic 1969 pop-soul album, Dusty in Memphis (on which you’ll find “Son of a Preacher Man,” “Breakfast in Bed,” and many other classics) and the more modern rock sound of Sheryl Crow (Bill Bottrell, who also did some work with Crow, produced I Am Shelby Lynne). In actuality, it was her sixth album, having been at it since 1989; nonetheless, she won the Grammy award for Best New Artist in 2001 on the strength of this album. Which of course makes one wonder what the criteria is to be a “new artist” — one can only suppose it’s something like “new to the majority of the mainstream public” — but it’s one of the few times I’ve felt that that particular Grammy was given to a deserving recipient. (But don’t get me started on the Grammies as a whole…if ever a professional “academy” was out of touch, it’s the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.)

To be honest, I hadn’t heard of Lynne either prior to I Am Shelby Lynne, so she was indeed a new artist to me at the time — I’m only giving them a hard time about this one in retrospect. The song that caught my attention initially was what I believe was the album’s first single, “Life Is Bad.” It’s a bluesy roots rocker that’s a cross of the aforementioned Springfield and Crow, with bits of Bonnie Raitt and Lucinda Williams in the mix — but overall, it’s all Lynne. And she knows from whence she sings: life has indeed not always been good to her. When she was 17, her alcoholic father shot her mother and then turned the gun on himself — while Shelby and her younger sister, now better known as singer Allison Moorer, were also at home. So she had to overcome the loss of her parents and try to raise her sister, all while trying to make it in music. And she has run into bad luck throughout her career that has thwarted greater commercial success a number of times when it seemed within reach. So when she sings,

Ache and writhe in agony like a vise on aging bones
Tar and acid drip from an ice cream cone
Holding onto a wind that chases the hell
Fallin’ in the darkness of an ever-descending well

Oh life is bad
Oh no, worst I ever had

you’d best believe her. She’s dealt with darkness, but judging by the string of great albums that she’s released since I Am Shelby Lynne (with just one weak spot: the so-so Love, Shelby, in 2001), she has learned to come to terms with it and bring the best of life to her music. And maybe this song allowed her to exorcise the worst of it.

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