Archive for the ‘Shelby Lynne’ Category

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.

There’s not much I can say about John Prine’s passing that hasn’t been said better elsewhere. While his music and children are his main legacies, so too are the many up-and-coming singer-songwriters with whom he shared a stage. His embrace of those new artists speaks volumes of him as a person, just as the reverence those artists have for him says much about him.

Anyway, I discovered John Prine’s music in the mid ‘80s while deejaying a folk show on my college radio station. I picked up Bruised Orange and the 1976 best-of on vinyl, and – a few years later – The Missing Years on CD. I was never a huge fan, in other words, though he was someone whose music I liked and respected; I always intended (and still intend) to explore his oeuvre, but have yet to get there. In 1993, Diane and I saw him with Nanci Griffith when they played the Mann Music Center in Philly on a co-headlining tour. Most of my memories of the night have long been lost, though Diane and I both recall being surprised at the numerous Warlocks or Pagans (Philly’s versions of the Hell’s Angels) in attendance. They, like the rest of us, were spellbound during his set.

Here he is with Nanci in 1990 on the U.K. television show “Town and Country.”

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: New Music, Vol. CIII, given that it’s the 103rd day of the year.

1) Neil Young & Crazy Horse – “Shut It Down.” After first listening to “Shut It Down” last year, I liked the music but found the lyrics somewhat simplistic. Now? I hear them as oddly prophetic. As the new music video for the song shows, we are, indeed, shutting the whole system down.   

2) Hazel English – “Five and Dime.” I featured one of Hazel’s other new songs a few weeks back. This one, the latest teaser track from her forthcoming long player, is as hypnotic.

3) Shelby Lynne – “I Got You.” If the songs released thus far are any indication, Shelby’s new album – which features some (remixed) tracks from the Here I Am soundtrack alongside new tunes –  is going to be great. 

4) Shelby Lynne – “Don’t Even Believe in Love.” To my ears, this sounds like a long-lost Dusty in Memphis track, which is about the highest compliment I can give. Play it once and you’ll play it twice, and then find yourself playing it ad infinitum.

5) The Petersens – “Gentle on My Mind.” I stumbled upon this track this morning. It represents everything wonderful about music.

And one bonus… 

6) 10,000 Maniacs – “Hello in There.” In the late 1980s and early ‘90s, it became a thing for acts to release CD “maxi-singles” that coupled their latest hoped-for hit with a few songs not available elsewhere. Such was the case with the You Happy Puppet CD from 10,000 Maniacs, which featured the Blind Man’s Zoo cut alongside an acoustic version of “Gun Shy,” the Carter Family’s “Wildwood Flower” and this cover of the John Prine classic – which, as it happens, is my favorite song by him (I’ve known many lonely older folks in my day).

Last night saw a who’s who of singer-songwriters gathering for a swank soiree at one of the region’s finest (if over-priced) restaurants. While some arrived in tuxedoes and others in gowns, a few underdressed artists explained/complained that they would have bedecked themselves if only they’d known they should. (“Who would’ve thought,” said one of the offenders.) The occasion: the Old Grey Cat’s first-ever “Album of the Decade” fete.

The six-hour event is now being edited into a one-hour TV special to air on the world’s top TV networks next Saturday night; apparently, watching an LP rotate on a turntable isn’t as enthralling as initially imagined. (That said, watching the LPs spin turned out to be more exciting than watching the CDs being dropped into a CD tray and then disappearing inside the player.)  

One of the night’s highlights came when select performers took to the stage to sing holiday songs. Up-and-coming Rhode Island-based country singer Charlie Marie, for instance, warmed hearts when she sang her latest single, “Old-Fashioned Christmas.”

And Shelby Lynne and Daryl Hall recreated their Live From Daryl’s House duet on Shelby’s bluesy “Xmas.” 

Lucy Rose, for her part, chided the Old Grey Cat for forgetting her No Words Left album in his rundown of the top albums of 2019 before forgiving him with her sweet rendition of Shakin’ Stevens’ “Merry Christmas Everyone.”

Maja Francis and First Aid Kit brought the house down with their stirring cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River.” (Technically, it’s not a Christmas tune, but…)

Finally, the Greta Garbo of rock ’n’ pop ’n’ soul, Duffy, returned from reclusion to close the festive fun with her stripped-down spin on Nat King Cole’s “Christmas Song.”

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

This past week, I enjoyed just a little Shelby Lynne early in the morning; she beats a cup of coffee for starting off the day. And I’ve been enjoying her music early in the evening, too. It beats a glass of wine for winding down at night.

Let me explain: I leave for work right around 6:45am most weekdays. This time of year, that means the last vestiges of darkness give way to dawn while I drive. It’s a wondrous moment to listen to music, as – at its best – it makes you feel good things are coming your way. I should add that, unlike years past, mine is now an easy commute most morns. When I breeze through all or most of the traffic lights, which is the norm, I pull into the business campus’ parking garage in about 25 minutes. That’s not enough time for an album in full, obviously, so if I start an album in the morning, I finish it that night; and if I start one during the evening, I pick up where I left off the next day.

Now, “essential” means different things to different folks. Some apparently hear it as a synonym for “best.” I don’t. I wouldn’t rate many of my picks as the greatest works by the artists who made them, though they are all great works. They’re just records everyone should experience at least once, if not twice, if not many times.

Shelby Lynne’s 2008 collection of Dusty Springfield songs, Just a Little Lovin’, has been on repeat since Wednesday. It’s not her best album – I Am Shelby Lynne, Suit Yourself or Revelation Road is that. But her voice and those old songs (and one new one) combine to create a sense of calm. Some songs are sweet, others sad, and others seductive. Some seem all three at once.

Over on her site/store, Shelby pens insightful essays about each of her records – combined, they make for something of a concise work memoir. One thing I learned from reading through them: Prior to recording Suit Yourself, her second album for Capitol, label executives recommended she record a collection of covers instead of an album of original material, as they were looking for a way to boost sales. She listened, but did her own thing (though she did include a hypnotic reading of “Rainy Night in Georgia” as a hidden/bonus track). A few years down the line, however, she decided to explore Dusty’s oeuvre.

The seed had been planted long before that label executive, apparently. At the time of its release in 1999 (U.K.) and 2000 (U.S.), critics compared her breakthrough album I Am Shelby Lynne to Dusty Springfield’s classic Dusty in Memphis; and, as a result, she sometimes received requests to sing something by the British chanteuse. Then, in 2005, she received an email from – of all people – Barry Manilow suggesting the same.

Flash forward to January 2007: Shelby set up shop with producer Phil Ramone at Capitol Studio A in the Capitol Records Tower in Hollywood, Cal., where she and a crack band laid down a few songs each day while accompanied by a solid cast of supporting players. Everything was recorded live. Everything was analogue.

The result is a sublime 10-song that was released the following January. The arrangements are sparser than Dusty’s, but no less emotive. This isn’t Shelby singing Dusty Karaoke, but Shelby living the lyrics. One of my favorite tracks is the Randy Newman-penned “I Don’t Want to Hear It Anymore” (though I admit that I still hear the backup singers from Dusty’s version).

One of the 10 songs, as I noted above, is a Shelby original: “Pretend.” In some ways, it’s a bigger tribute to Dusty than the other tunes as it sounds like a Dusty original. (And speaking of sound: Just a Little Lovin’ is a true audiophile’s dream. If you close your eyes, you’ll swear you’re in the studio with Shelby and the band.)

Oh, and here’s some irony: Those Capitol executives didn’t get a chance to work this album due the Capitol-Virgin Media merger of 2007. Instead, Shelby took the project to Lost Highway. (Wikipedia has more on the album, for those interested.)

The track list: