A few years back, Diane and I traveled from our old homestead in Hatboro, Pa., to the Ardmore Music Hall for what turned out to be one of our final shows in the Philly region. The reason for the trek: the singer-songwriter Shelby Lynne. She pulsated like a supernova once she hit the stage, not stepping into the spotlight but becoming one with the spotlight.
It was a remarkable night.
After the show, at the merchandise table, we picked up the DVD and soundtrack LP for Here I Am, an independent film that she starred in and was selling directly to fans, and a month or so after that I ordered the soundtrack on CD from Shelby’s online store – I wanted to be able to listen in my car, not just in my den. The CD arrived while we were in midst of packing, packing and packing for our impending move, so I ripped the CD and tossed it into a box (and, honestly, have yet to see it again).
That’s a whole lot of backstory to get to this: In the weeks and months that followed, the Here I Am soundtrack became one with my subconscious. A few soliloquies lifted from the film are tracks unto themselves and are no less brilliant than the songs. “I was looking at the moon the other night,” Shelby says in one, “and it’s the same moon that that waitress and gravedigger look at. It’s the same dreams. Everybody stands on a stage of some kind. Every spirit’s walking around under the same stage lights. You don’t have to sing to just be in the spotlight. Six feet under is six feet under. Doesn’t matter what dirt it is or where the dirt is.”
On the soundtrack, that leads into the fragile and vulnerable “Revolving Broken Heart,” which opens with its own spoken-word vignette: “The audience, they’re the real heroes. They watch you fall apart. They listen to what you’re not telling. They know what you’re hiding…”
The juxtaposition of soliloquy and song create an intimate, diary-like feel to the enterprise. But, as the soliloquy-free version above demonstrates, it loses none of its power without the spoken words.
Since then, the movie has been retitled When We Kill the Creators, re-edited, and has earned much applause at film festivals; and Shelby has turned the soundtrack into a full-fledged album, which was released yesterday (4/17). As inferred above, the spoken-word bits and one song, “War Heroes,” have been dropped, the remaining tracks re-mixed, and a few new songs added. I must confess, however, that I was a little apprehensive about the tinkering until I heard the full album yesterday. While the album has a slightly different feel than the soundtrack, it is no less intimate or brilliant.
Unfortunately, I can’t reference my CD for the liner notes, as my Amazon delivery was pushed back to next week, but Shelby said on The Paste Happiest Hour webcast yesterday (she goes on around the 25-minute mark, but the interview – which features two songs – doesn’t begin in earnest for about five more minutes) that she recorded most of the tracks herself in her home studio; and that the new songs were also inspired by the film.
Certain tracks, a la “Revolving Broken Heart,” expose a wounded soul. In “My Mind’s Riot,” for instance, she sings about a fraying relationship:
(That’s Shelby on sax, by the way – she last played it in 9th grade!)
Other songs, however, have a more soulful feel to them. As I mentioned last week, “Don’t Even Believe in Love” sounds like a long-lost Dusty in Memphis outtake to my ears. Beyond the drums being more prominent, I don’t hear much of a difference between it and the Here I Am mix, but in a sense it doesn’t much matter: After one listen you’ll swear it’s been with you forever. It’s just an incredible song.
In that Paste piece, Shelby also talks about how she can get the feeling of a song down even though she’s not technically proficient on every instrument she picks up. (In fact, she sums up the album as “just a bunch of feelings.”) From where I sit, as a music fan, emotional heft comes not from the purity of the playing in and of itself, but the purity of the intent behind it. (It’s why Neil Young and Crazy Horse are, to me, one of the all-time best bands.) “Here I Am” is an example of that – just Shelby and piano, it’s a dramatic and powerful tour de force. It resonates in the soul long after the song has faded to silence.
These are odd times due to the pandemic, of course, with many of us shuttered inside our homes and stressed by the unknowns that lie beyond our doors. Shelby Lynne’s new album won’t end any of that, but it will take you away from the worries for a spell. Give it a go. It’s available on all the usual streaming platforms; Amazon has the CD; and Shelby – through her website – is also selling autographed LPs.