Archive for the ‘Shelby Lynne’ Category

’Tis the season for making lists and checking them twice, and determining which album is the Old Grey Cat’s ballyhooed Album of the Year. The honor, which is celebrating its 40th year this year, came about late in 1978 due to my dream of becoming a rock critic (yeah, I know: crazy!), and continued through the decades because…well, why not? Over that span, it’s chronicled the evolution (or lack thereof) of my musical tastes.

It is a decidedly personal affair, in other words. In years past, and on the updated tally I post early each year, I explain the process thusly: “The candidates are drawn from what I’ve purchased, so the pool is decidedly limited in comparison to, say, what the writers at Rolling Stone or Allmusic.com are exposed to. Some years I buy a lot and some years not, primarily due to my listening habits – I play albums I love over and over and over until they become one with my subconscious (obsession, not variety, is my spice of life). So the more I like certain albums, the less overall I hear.”

But in the immortal words of Ron Ziegler, “that statement is no longer operative.” In the age of Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube, no one needs to actually purchase an album to enjoy it. Just about every new release can be had for the price of one CD a month (aka the subscription fee) or the willingness to put up with commercials. (Yet, although I don’t purchase as much as I once did, I own all the albums that made their way onto my list. How could I not?)

Also, as I wrote last year, “The candidates are also winnowed by my age, race, gender and idiosyncrasies. I’m a middle-aged white guy, in other words, with catholic tastes.”

Some years, I revisit all the contenders. This year? There was no need. They are albums that I’ve turned to time and again since their releases, and have never grown tired of. That said, there were a few surprises: Although I thoroughly loved First Aid Kit’s Ruins and Courtney Marie Andrews’ May Your Kindness Remain, as the year wore on I found myself listening to them less and less often. I’m sure it had more to do with me, and the headspace I found myself in, than the music. I deem them two of my three “honorable mentions” for the year. Mikaela Davis’ Delivery is my third.

And, with that… 

Juliana Hatfield’s Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John is my Album of the Year. 

I got chills when she announced the project – as Hopelessly Devoted to Liv – during her concert with Wesley Stace at the Ardmore Music Hall in October 2017, and those chills were multiplying after she sang “Have You Never Been Mellow?” and “Physical.” (Just as an aside, Stace suggested that she call the album JH Sings ONJ, as the title conjures such cover sets from yesteryear as The Hollies Sing Dylan. It obviously stuck.) 

In my review, I noted that the set is, in some ways, an extension of the moving “Wonder Why” from her 2017 Pussycat LP, “in which she sought refuge from the madness of the present via the memories of her childhood. These songs, for her and us, are a similar escape into the past. They conjure another time and place, and also pay homage to a singer (and sometime songwriter) who, in that long-ago era, created a safe room where many of us dwelled on occasion.”

FYI: It’s the sixth time that Juliana has nabbed my year-end honors.

The first runner-up: the Stone Foundation’s Everybody, Anyone. In my review, I said that the songs “feature taut rhythms and lyrics that strive for something more than the rudimentary reflections that make up much of today’s mainstream music. They’re metaphysical musings of the highest order.”

Paul Weller co-wrote that Stone Foundation track, “Next Time Around.” His own release this year, True Meanings, is the latest classic in his own oeuvre, and is my second runner-up. Due to offline events, this blog was placed into a holding pattern around the time of the album’s release, so I never reviewed it. But make no mistake: It’s one of his best. 

The third runner-up: Shelby Lynne’s Here I Am, which features her songs (and some poetic snippets of dialogue) from her movie of the same name. Originally available only on vinyl, it’s now out on CD (via Shelby’s online store). The songs are as mesmerizing as her performance in the film.  

The fourth runner-up: Erin O’Dowd, whose debut album, Old Town, took up residence in my heart and head way back in May, and provided much-needed sustenance on a long road trip Diane and I took in September. In my First Impressions piece on it, I said that the songs sent “my spirits soaring higher than the beautiful May morn.”

The fifth and final runner-up: Becky Warren’s Undesirable, which is an album-long treatise on America’s unofficial caste system. As I wrote in this piece, it’s akin to a series of short stories set to song. It’ll draw you in, make you think, and make you tap your feet.

Not long after graduating high school, Tony Joe White (1943-2018) moved from rural Louisiana, where he’d been raised on a cotton farm, to Marietta, Ga., where a sister lived, in pursuit of a better life. He played guitar and, from what I gather, had been in and out of bands back home, but it didn’t pay the bills – as it often doesn’t. He found employment as a dump-truck driver with the highway department, and it featured an odd perk: work was always called on account of rain.

Fast-forward a few years, by which point he’s kicking around the music circuit in Texas: He hears Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe” on the radio, and it seems lifted from his own life, just about, inspiring him to try his hand at writing songs. Among the first out of the gate: “Polk Salad Annie,” which harkens back to his childhood, and “Rainy Night in Georgia,” which conjures the rainy nights he experienced in Marietta.

If he’d never written anything else, he would have contributed more to this world than most. “Polk Salad Annie” was covered by Elvis Presley. And “Rainy Night in Georgia”… it’s one of the greatest songs of all time. But no version – not even White’s, which sounds tentative to my ears – equals that of Brook Benton’s masterful single, which went to No. 4 on the pop charts and No. 1 on the R&B charts in 1970. The texture of the veteran R&B singer’s voice was made for White’s melancholic lyrics. 

That said, Shelby Lynne included a spellbinding rendition of it (as “Track 12”) on her 2005 Suit Yourself album. The grain of her voice echoes the rain, and I’d place it almost on a par with Benton’s rendition. (White plays on the track with her; they were neighbors for a spell, and friends – he appears in her recent film, Here I Am.)

The great Chuck Jackson released a version not long after Benton on what would be his final Motown album, Teardrops Keep Fallin’ on My Heart: 

B.J. Thomas also released a version of it in late 1970 on his Most of All album:

Johnny Rivers also recorded it that year:

Ray Charles covered it on his 1972 album The Genius Hits the Road:

Two years after Ray, Van McCoy (yes, of the “Hustle” fame) and his Soul City Symphony recorded an instrumental version of it for the Love Is the Answer LP. (It’s far more kitsch than cool.)

Otis Rush released his rendition of it in 1976, on his Right Place, Wrong Time album.

In 1981, Randy Crawford included a nice version of it on her Secret Combination album. Although released  as a single, it didn’t chart in the U.S.; it did make it to No. 18 in the U.K., however. 

Conway Twitty and Sam Moore recorded the classic tune for the 1993 Rhythm, Country and Blues compilation CD. 

In 2004, David Ruffin’s rendition – which was recorded in 1970 – was released on the David CD. 

And, finally, Aaron Neville – with an ample assist from Chris Botti – covered the song on his Bring It On Home collection of soul classics.

Those are but some of the many versions of the classic tune, of course, and I’m sure I missed some that others think of as must-listens. (About the only person who never recorded it, but should have: Gladys Knight.)

I am not a film critic, nor do I play one on TV. In fact, these days, I rarely go to the multiplex – the last film I saw in a theater was Jason Bourne (my choice) and before that Love & Friendship (Diane’s choice), and before that Indignation (mine), Spotlight (ours), and whatever the final Harry Potter film (Diane’s) was called. And, at home, despite having an array of options thanks to cable, Netflix and Amazon Prime, I rarely click play on a movie. I don’t care about animation, live-action comic books, or crass comedies, which are pretty much all that the Hollywood studios crank out these days.

In fact, before Here I Am, the last “new” movie I watched was Lady Bird on Amazon Prime, which Diane wanted to see. I found it insightful, poignant and funny, and enjoyed its nuanced, slice-of-life story. 

Written and directed by Cynthia Mort, Here I Am is also a slice-of-life tale, though it’s a music-based drama that includes a layer of metaphysical musings. The plot is straightforward: Successful singer Tommy Gold (Shelby Lynne), who’s been rocked by guilt and self-doubt since a tragic death, deals with the pressures of life while recording a new album and preparing for a tour. In some respects, the film has a cinéma-vérité feel – we’re plopped into the middle of an ongoing story, and it’s left to us to sort certain things out.

As Tommy, Shelby Lynne radiates pain – but also the magnetism that’s made Tommy a star. You believe her in the role. The supporting cast is also strong: Ally Walker plays Walker, who’s either Tommy’s manager or former manager-turned-record company executive, as well as a former lover – aside from Tommy’s internal demons, she’s the main antagonist. Elisabeth Röhm costars as Tommy’s agent, Gail, who defends and explains her boss to those who only see her as a product. Hugo Armstrong plays Colton, a sympathetic record-company man. 

I found it an insightful look at this thing called human existence, and recommend it to anyone interested in adult stories. (And by “adult” I mean “grown-up.”) Don’t get me wrong: Shot on a barebones budget over 15 days, it’s not a perfect film. But the story and performances are compelling enough that you’ll overlook the flaws.

You can buy it and the soundtrack via Shelby Lynne’s web store.

The soundtrack, I should mention, features songs written by Shelby Lynne as well as Shelby and Cynthia Mort. My only criticism: At present, it’s only available on vinyl from Shelby’s store, which means I can only listen when I’m here, at home, and not on the road. Here’s one of the songs, which I’m leaving unlisted on YouTube, as performed at the Ardmore Music Hall a few weeks back:

A few days after the show, Shelby told me via a tweet that the title is “Looking at the Moon/Revolving Broken Heart,” but that doesn’t match any of the songs listed at the end of the DVD or on the film’s website…and our LP, which we picked up along with the Here I Am DVD at the show, doesn’t list titles on the jacket or label. Late tonight (8/12), she said it’s “My Mind’s Riot.” Whatever it’s called, it’s a stirring ode to the downside of love – losing it, or the fear of losing it. It’s the kind of song that lingers in the mind long after the album is over.

And the rest of the soundtrack is as good. Here’s another track, “Off My Mind,” which was released as a single earlier this year.

(To learn more about Here I Am, visit Shelby Lynne’s website.)

There’s no denying it: I’ve been in a Shelby Lynne frame of mind for the past few weeks. How could I not? But that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been time for new music…

One of my favorite young acts, Hannah’s Yard, released a delightful four-song EP this weekend. Titled Revelations, it features renditions of the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” Jack Johnson’s “Better Together” and Randy Newman’s “Feels Like Home,” as well as their own “Never Gonna Say I’m Sorry” (from their 2017 Beginnings album). “Blackbird” is beautiful.

 

Hannah’s Yard hails from Olney, Buckinghamshire, the small British town that gave birth to “Amazing Grace.” About two hours south, in Surrey, lies Paul Weller’s Black Barn Studio, where the R&B/soul-infused Stone Foundation and assorted friends, including Weller and his former Style Council mates Mick Talbot and Steve White, recorded their forthcoming Everybody, Anyone album. The latest teaser track is “Carry the News”…

The singer-songwriter Amanda Shires released her self-made video for “Parking Lot Pirouette,” from her forthcoming album To the Sunset, last week. It features Shires on vocals and violin, husband Jason Isbell on acoustic and electric guitar, Dave Cobb on bass, Peter Levin on Wurlitzer and synthesizer, and Jerry Pentecost on drums.

Karrie O’Sullivan – “I Love You the Most.” Here’s another tantalizing track from the Irish singer-songwriter. It was released back in May, and I’ve enjoyed it since – but I was unaware that there was a video for it until just now. Like last summer’s single, “I Don’t Here You,” it’s quite addictive…

And because I am in a Shelby frame of mind…  here’s “Off My Mind,” one of the songs from her movie Here I Am. It was released back in April…and was a song we’d hoped to hear her perform in Ardmore.

Finally, one bonus… Shelby again, this time from just last night in Knoxville, Tenn., where she performed an a cappella version of Dusty’s “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me”… “hypnotic” doesn’t begin to describe it.