After an early career spent bucking against the Nashville system, Alabamian Shelby Lynne has emerged as one of our Footprint's significant artists. Her latest, Just A Little Lovin', displays the vistas of her imagination and the strength of her craft.
Lynne's humble beginnings as an artist never predicted her rise in stature over the last decade or so. Since a pretty face and powerful voice is all that is needed for most trying to break into Nashvegas, Lynne got a record deal without ever being allowed to show her skills as a songwriter and a song stylist.
Although her acknowledged leap into critical consciousness came when she released I Am Shelby Lynne back in 2000, her actual breakthrough was 1993's Temptation, an album of original songs rooted in western swing. Temptation showed the world that Lynne had the ability to pull off "big vision" stylistic musical statements without coming off as a derivative or mere imitation. For a singer who previously had been known only as the singer of someone else's standard Nashville fair, this was an unexpected artistic leap.
I Am Shelby Lynne won her a Grammy for Best New Artist (which was exciting but also strange due to the fact that it was her sixth album thirteen years into her career) and set her career in motion as a singer-songwriter on par with any female artist on the scene from Sheryl Crow to Bonnie Raitt. Her records since I Am have become more sparse and more song focused allowing her listeners to recognize the depth and power of her voice, both as a singer and writer.
Just A Little Lovin' is Lynne's first album for the Universal boutique imprint, Lost Highway, and it finds her back in her stylist mode. The album is subtitled Inspired by Dusty Springfield making it an instant treat to southern music fans. Although English by birth, Springfield is known and loved by music fans in our Footprint because of her classic Dusty In Memphis record that was produced by Jerry Wexler at American Studios in Memphis.
Lovin' features songs that were all recorded by Miss Springfield. Produced by the masterful Phil Ramone, the album has that true "feel of the room" with an intimacy that can only be heard with old tube mics and established studios, L.A.'s Capitol Studios in this case. Starting with the title track, "Side One" becomes a showcase for Lynne as a vocalist with Ramone capturing each nuance of her expressive vocals.
"Side Two" kicks off with Donnie Fritt's and Eddie Hinton's classic composition Breakfast in Bed from Dusty In Memphis. That is followed by Tony Joe White's Willie and Laura Mae Jones which was a Memphis outtake. These two songs are radically different from Springfield's versions because Lynne brings some greasy flavor back to these tunes with gritty arrangements and Dean Park's nasty-good guitar licks.
(Lynne has become of collaborator with Tony Joe over the last few years when she sang on his The Heriones. White returned the favor by playing guitar on Lynne's last record, Suit Yourself, which also features to TJW classics (Old Times Sake and Rainy Night in Georgia). His influence reveals its mark all over Lynne's recent work.)
Pretend is the only Lynne composition on Lovin', and it sits well with the rest of the record. It has a meditative feel that fits with the vibe of this stunning record. Its inclusion seamlessly connects Lynne's album-long intrepretation of the influence that Miss Springfield has had on her.
Shelby Lynne is the exact kind of artist we love here at Swampland. She doesn't fit into any neat or safe boundaries often straddling her between adult pop and country. Those meaningless classifications hardly matter. Just A Little Lovin' resonates with the sound of Lynne's own internal muse, a sound we are fortunate she shares with the rest of us.
- Jim Markel