Shelby Lynne with band and WFUV's Rita Houston & Carmel Holt. (photo by Nick D'Agostino)
Shelby Lynne is someone that looks for signs. Recently, she got back the masters of her two biggest albums, I Am Shelby Lynne, and Love, Shelby. Interested in marking the fifteenth anniversary of the former's release, Lynne's new label Rounder Records asked to not only re-issue I Am Shelby Lynne, but also requested a new album from the singer.
As if by kismet, it seemed that the timing was right for her to gather songs that had been “collecting” since 2012. During Lynne's recent return to Studio A, it was clear that the Grammy-winning singer was reading the signs right. We discuss her thirteenth studio recording, I Can’t Imagine, which finds Shelby at her most open, with her signature “Americana Soul” shining. Plus, she treats us to a stunning acoustic set that proves that thirteen is a lucky number for Lynne.
By Amy McCarthy
Thursday, June 4, 2015 | 4 days ago
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more independent artist than Shelby Lynne. After winning the approval of the music establishment in the form of Grammy and Academy of Country Music Awards, Lynne — who visits Dallas tomorrow night for a performance at Dallas City Performance Hall — followed her own path, for better or worse. After releasing the iconic I Am Shelby Lynne in 1999, the artist moved in 1,000 different creative directions, some better than others, but all contributing to an artistic outlook unlike any other.
Pop success was clearly not what Lynne wanted. After the unanticipated success of her breakthrough album (her sixth recording), she made a lot of interesting, sometimes contradictory choices. In 2008, she recorded an incredible (and well-received) tribute to Dusty Springfield. She formed her own record label, recorded a Christmas album and toured as an indie darling. In 2015, though, Shelby Lynne is at her creative best.
This year’s release of I Can’t Imagine marks her first major-label album in eight years, which came with the highest of expectations. After the release of her first commercially and critically successful record in I Am Shelby Lynne, it was hard to know what to expect. That, ultimately, is much of Lynne’s appeal: a talent that is not limited to genre or style or aesthetic. It is near impossible to peg Lynne into a neat box. She is country, she is Americana, she is bluesy, she is one hell of a vocalist. That has always been true. From one track to the next on I Can’t Imagine, you wind through impressive tributes to her musical influences layered with intensely personal writing.
And yet, despite all this critical acclaim and incredible music, Lynne has never really managed to stay in the mainstream. If you ask most people who consider themselves fans of country music, they’ll probably tell you that they’ve never even heard of Lynne, and that is exactly what is wrong with the current state of this genre. People who “love” country music sure don’t seem to understand what the hell it is.
Right now there seems to be little room in country music for anything deeper than the crick where Luke Bryan catches his catfish, making Lynne a complete outlier. Even if other artists, many of them female, are tackling heavy issues, none come close to the depth and darkness of Lynne’s music. Miranda Lambert is singing about teen pregnancy, sure, but Lynne is lyrically contending with the murder-suicide death of her parents, and that doesn’t exactly play well after “Kick the Dust Up.”
Lynne maintains the authenticity that has always made country music different from other genres. More than that, she continues the genre’s storyteller tradition. Popular country music today is little more than stringing together sexual innuendos and rural references, but Lynne is weaving tales. She is exploring emotions. The results are occasionally tumultuous, but that is what makes it, and country music, so great.
Fans aren’t happy to see the real stories and connection with rural America disappear from country music, especially those who grew up on the good stuff. Any discussion of country music, even among fans, is likely to involve a lot of hate for “bro-country” or “pop-country” or Taylor Swift. And while Bryan and Tim McGraw fill up Gexa Energy Pavilion and rake in millions of dollars, more than 100 tickets remain for Shelby Lynne’s show at the Dallas City Performance Hall on Friday.
Being invested in making country music better involves little more than committing to listen to better country music. Stop complaining about Bryan and fantasizing about Johnny Cash descending from the heavens on a ring of fire to save us all from Florida-Georgia Line, and find yourself some decent country music.
If those people who complain about Bryan and Florida-Georgia Line are so upset about the current state of the music they claim to love, why is it that artists like Lynne fly so far under the radar? Based on the sheer volume of complaints about mainstream country and the success of artists like Sturgill Simpson, you’d think that I Can’t Imagine would be flying off record store shelves and scalped tickets for Friday night’s performance would be going for twice face value.
But they aren’t, and those who don’t bother to pick up a ticket will sorely regret their decision when the music establishment finally gets its shit together and realizes that Shelby Lynne deserves to be playing much bigger venues. In the past few years, any number of artists have made the ascent from 400-person clubs to massive venues at warp speed, and if history repeats itself, so will Shelby Lynne.
Rolling Stone.com is up with news of Shelby’s album, tour, her forthcoming Yahoo! live stream and a performance of “Down Here” taken from a recent visit to KCRW. Check it!
Shelby Lynne is currently in the middle of a U.S. tour during which she offers up every track – in sequence – of two of the most remarkable albums she has ever released. During the second portion of her show, the singer revisits I Am Shelby Lynne, the jazzy, soulful – and totally ballsy – 2000 LP that earned her a Best New Artist Grammy a full decade after her decidedly country debut. But before that, concertgoers will be treated to every song on I Can't Imagine, which was released May 5th on Rounder Records. Her thirteenth release since 1989, the LP combines the easygoing vibe of her current West Coast surroundings with dashes of the sometimes prickly relationship the singer-songwriter has had with her Alabama upbringing (when she's even bothered to look back on it, that is).
Fiercely independent and refreshingly opinionated, Lynne often presents her lyrics — and her thoughts on certain subjects — obliquely, reflecting her vulnerability as both an artist and a notoriously private person. However, with "Down Here," a particular standout from I Can't Imagine, Lynne's dismay at instances of discrimination and homophobia stems from personal observations throughout her childhood and spills out in bursts of anger and defiance by the time she gets to the not-so-subtle line, "Out in the country, out in the hills, out in the country, three-dollar bill." It's a tune that has, quite rightly, drawn comparisons to Neil Young's "Southern Man."
"I get to thinking about the South and how I felt when I was a little kid. Feeling, 'Wow, I am different. I feel it in my heart, and I know that I don't have anything to do with it. I'm being who I am and what I am," Lynne tells Rolling Stone Country of the song that also features the rich, plaintive voice of Clarence Greenwood (a/k/a Citizen Cope). "When you know that and you're eight or nine years old, you start going, 'Well, I have to start acting differently. Because it's obvious what I'm feeling is not really acceptable around here.' So you just start being and becoming who you are and hope and make the best of it. By the time you're an adult and you have a voice, an opinion and a way of life that's your own, you have to be secure in the fact of who you are. That's the whole goal with 'Down Here,' it's just saying you're not alone. So, I'm hoping that song can reach some little Southern child and they can go, 'Goddammit, she feels like I feel.'"
Although Lynne collaborates on a few of the LP's tracks with musicians Ben Peeler and Pete Donnelly, along with Canadian singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith, half of I Can't Imagine's tracks were solo writes.
"I know if I've got one or not; a writer knows, 'Oh I've got this,'" she explains of those tunes, which include "Down Here." "If you put your brain into it, you're just going to have a brain record and who the fuck wants that? I want to be feeling a lot, but not thinking any. That's why my records are such a mess. [Laughs] But I am not going in there without any thought other than to make a fucking stellar record. I don't know what the fuck it's going to be except I've got this song, so let's see what happens to it."
Lynne's tour reaches Nashville on Saturday, May 30th, followed by a stop in Atlanta on May 31st that fans can watch from the comfort of their own living rooms. Through a partnership with Yahoo and Live Nation, the Atlanta show will stream live online, starting at 8:00 p.m. ET this Sunday.
A song dedicated to the folks at Heil... Made up on the fly!