The Servant finds Shelby Lynne celebrating the Lord – and venerating the human condition – via 10 time-honored gospel songs, which she recorded with drummer James Gadson and guitarist George Doering just prior to the world shuttering its windows in March 2020. She’s quoted as saying that, “This album is one of my proudest achievements. Making it saved my soul. James Gadson reminded me I have one.”
The songs are ones most music fans should know by heart, including “Go Tell It to the Mountain,” “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” “Amazing Grace,” “Swing Down, Sweet Chariot,” “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “Wayfaring Stranger.” That said, it’s a mesmerizing listen. It reminds me to an extent of Elvis Presley’s forays into gospel music. The arrangements are sparser than his, mind you, but include backing vocals that channel the Jordanaires and/or Stamps, while Lynne’s expressive vocals – like Presley’s – reflect the grit and grace that comes with and from sin and redemption. These aren’t rote performances, in other words. She lives and breathes the lyrics.
As the above clip demonstrates, the sparse arrangements add a dramatic element to the songs that’s often missing in renditions by other performers, who – to my ears, anyway – sometimes turn these treasures into little more than packaged representations of faith. Here, however, they become showcases not just for Lynne’s vocal prowess, but for the message the words convey. These are songs of toil and triumph, of sin and salvation, of not just finding a light in the darkness but of recognizing that said light exists.
It doesn’t appear that, at this juncture, the album is available anywhere but on the streaming services. That said, it’s well worth seeking out. It’s a hypnotic collection.
The track list: