Posts Tagged ‘Shelby Lynne’

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.

(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: