Posts Tagged ‘I’ll Hold Your Head’

(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.)

Heaven knows, she ain’t no Margaret Mitchell – and thank God for that. For the past two weeks, I’ve been in something of a Shelby Lynne frame of mind – in the run-up to her concert in “almost Philly” last week, I explored her canon; and in the afterglow of said show, I’ve continued on. There are many flat-out fantastic platters in her catalog. I Am Shelby Lynne, her breakthrough, is one. Suit Yourself, from 2005, is another, And Just a Little Lovin’, her 2008 collection of Dusty Springfield songs, is yet another. 

Revelation Road is one more. Released in 2011, the 11-song-strong set (12 on vinyl; and more on the deluxe edition released a year later) was written, performed and produced by Shelby, but it’s far from a stripped-down affair. She plays guitar, bass, percussion, and keyboards, and provides all the backing vocals. The one-woman-band approach wouldn’t mean much without quality songs, of course. And she has them. (As the picture shows, my LP – which I bought at last week’s show – is autographed.)

In the liner notes, before dedicating the album to her Mama, Daddy, and Sissy, she explains that “writing these songs put me on the back roads of my past. I remembered my childhood in Alabama as I wrote this album and I looked back with love.” But processing that past also means, as evidenced by some of the songs, that she processed (at least in part) the pain. Her nostalgia is forever tinged bittersweet.

Also included are the yearning lyrics to a song called “Travelin’ Fever” that was written by her father, who – from what I’ve read – took off from time to time. Among the lines: “Every time I settle down and vow to roam no more/Something like a restless wind calls me to my door.” Remembering the best of him must be hard.

Shelby’s 11 (or 12, or more) songs explore the vagaries of her life. To crib from myself from earlier this year, “The mark of much, though certainly not all, great art is that it’s simultaneously personal and universal, restrictive yet expansive.” I.e., we identify with the lyrics, and hear ourselves in them. Such is the case here.

One highlight: “I’ll Hold Your Head,” in which she recalls trying to shield her younger sister from the “blues and the beer and the bourbon” that accented their childhoods. 

Another: “Even Angels.”

Another: “I Want to Go Back,” about accepting, confronting and escaping one’s past. In some respects, it delves into the same gauzy territory as Goffin-King’s “Goin’ Back,” but with much clearer eyes: “I want to go back so I can run away again.”

One song singled out in many of the reviews I’ve read is “Heaven’s Only Days Down the Road,” which made Rolling Stone’s list of “40 Saddest Country Songs of All Time” in 2014. It revisits what must be the ghostliest demarcation in Shelby’s life: The morning her father shot and killed her mother and then turned the gun on himself. What’s remarkable about it: She tells the story from the perspective of her dad: “Lost all the faith a man can own/My hopes are empty and so is my soul.”

“I Won’t Leave You,” which is also featured in the making-of documentary included with the deluxe version, is yet another gem.

The track list:

Late last Sunday afternoon, we were hoverin’ beneath an awning on Lancaster Avenue in Ardmore, Pa., trying to find a dry place to stand. A heavy rain was falling off and on, and the Ardmore Music Hall had yet to open its doors. But it seemed we heard a voice calling “it’s all right” from inside. It was a rainy (and humid) night in Pennsylvania, in other words, a few hours before Shelby Lynne’s show in “almost Philly” – aka a suburb about eight miles outside of the city line. It felt like it was raining all over the world.

It was a rainy night in Pennsylvania, but a sun shone inside the hallowed hall.

I’ve seen many shows in my lifetime. I’ve raved about most. (To quote the bard Van Morrison, “rave on, John Donne, rave on.”) But I’ve witnessed few artists as magnetic as Shelby Lynne. Accompanied by Ben Peeler, she wove a sublime 90-minute set that mixed and matched memorable songs from throughout her career. The dramatic “Leavin’,” about walking out on a loved-one, was an early highlight. It sounded like a long-lost Dusty in Memphis demo, just about.

Another highlight: “Johnny Met June.” While introducing it, Shelby mentioned the many legendary performers she’s been lucky enough to meet and get to know, including Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, George Jones and Johnny Cash, and asked, “Who are we going to replace these special cats with?” 

I should mention that, until this night, we’d never seen Shelby on her own – an oddity, to be sure, that has more to do with time, circumstance and ignorance of her Philly-area appearances than anything else. Astute readers will remember however that Diane and I saw Shelby and her sister Allison Moorer deliver a sterling set at the World Cafe Live in Philadelphia last August, and were so besotted that we saw them again at the Sellersville Theater in February of this year. The main difference between those shows and this one: she shared the spotlight at those concerts while she was the spotlight here.

One case in point: the performance of “Looking at the Moon/Revolving Broken Heart,” a sublime song from her film Here I Am (which I plan to review in the weeks ahead). She sings “I can’t find the beauty in dreaming/I wake up believing you’re leaving…” and whether she was in character or not, you believe her. It’s a stark, beautiful ballad that quivers and aches. (At present, it’s available on the movie soundtrack – vinyl only – that Shelby’s selling at her shows and via her website. It’s well worth the purchase, as is the film itself.)

“Where I’m From” (aka “Alabama Frame of Mind”) and “Black Light Blue” were both, as one might expect, wonderful…

…as was what followed: A marriage proposal. No – not to or from Shelby, but from one fan to another. Very sweet. “Dreamsome” will forever be their song.

But the proposal wasn’t as sweet as Shelby’s song for Allison, “I’ll Hold Your Head.”

As I said at the outset, I tend to rave about performances that I enjoyed, so I won’t clamor on. But know this: Shelby drew the audience in, and held us in her sway. There were songs she didn’t sing that I would have liked to have heard – anything from her Dusty covers album, Just a Little Lovin’, for instance, especially “Breakfast in Bed” or “I Don’t Want to Hear It Anymore”; “The Killin’ Kind” or “Off My Mind” (another Here I Am song that was released as a single), both of which Diane hoped would make the set; or her poignant rendition of “Rainy Night in Georgia” (a bonus track on her Suit Yourself CD), which seemed to fit the night. But, that said, there weren’t any songs that I wished she hadn’t sung, or would have swapped out.

As I tweeted after we got home, “She should not be missed when she comes to your town. One of the most hypnotic shows I’ve had the pleasure to witness. (And she let my wife hug her afterwards, so there’s that.)” And I know it wasn’t just me. Diane says she now places Shelby in the same class as Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder as a live performer. Which says a lot.

One last thing: Pete Donnelly opened. In the past, he’s played with NRBQ and he still plays with the Figgs (and, in that capacity, once backed Graham Parker). The highlight of his short set was “American Town,” the title track to an EP he released a few years back. For part of the song, he eschewed the mike and sang from the edge of the stage. It was riveting.

Shelby’s set:

  1. 10 Rocks
  2. I’m Alive
  3. Leavin’
  4. Down Here
  5. Johnny Met June
  6. Life Is Bad
  7. She Knows Where She Goes
  8. Sold the Devil (Sunshine)
  9. Looking at the Moon/Revolving Broken Heart
  10. Lookin’ Up
  11. Why Can’t You Be
  12. Where I’m From
  13. Black Light Blue
  14. (Marriage Proposal)/Dreamsome
  15. I’ll Hold Your Head 
  16. Iced Tea

[Update: My review of Here I Am, the film and soundtrack, is here.]