So a scared teenager steps to the mic in a Nashville studio for the first time and the pain exhibited on her 1989 Sunrise major label debut on Epic makes that album one of the best of the year, and one of the best debuts ever. The pain is etched too deep for radio but the label rushes her back into the studio a mere nine months later for a second try (Tough All Over). It’s awful and she cries a lot. Soft Talk, in ’91, is an improvement but it’s obvious at this point that a firebrand independent willful spirit like Shelby Lynne is the antithesis of everything corporate Nashville stands for. She leaves the label and finally lives up to the promise of her debut by going Western Swing in ’93 on the fun-filled and joyous Temptation where she even gets to channel her inner Elvis (“Feelin’ Kinda Lonely Tonight”) on indie Morgan Creek.
Restless (Magnatone) is her final try for Nashville glory but the fools in the suits can’t promote it properly despite it being better than most everything else out there in 1995.
So she left.
Totally reinventing herself four years later, the artist on the magnificent I Am Shelby Lynne—now re-released on Rounder with six new tracks and a complete 16-song 90-minute concert DVD—is bold, declarative, sexy, soulful and decidedly un-country. She one-ups the Sheryl Crows out there at their own game and inexplicably wins a Grammy as “Best New Artist” of 1999 as if the National Academy Of Recording Arts & Sciences is woefully ignorant of her work in the preceding 10 years. The album comes out first in England where she is indeed hailed as a hot new artist (which, in a way, she was).
Recorded in California, I Am Shelby Lynne was a rejuvenation of her career. But this particular artist was not about to make I Am Shelby Lynne Too. Instead, Lynne moved again, from Mercury to Island for Love, Shelby in 2001…then to Capitol for Identity Crisis (2003) and Suit Yourself (2005). Be it known that every one of her new millennium records were equally wonderful and satisfying for a fan following that by now loved her almost as much as I do. But, for some reason still unknown, these records never found the kind of acceptance they deserved.
So she quit the major label scene and signed with another indie, Lost Highway, in 2008 for her astonishingly good Dusty Springfield tribute, Just A Little Lovin’, produced by the legendary studio maestro Phil Ramone [1934-2013]. It is my contention that no one, and I mean no one, could have pulled it off better than Lynne. She transcended that Dusty appeal and brought that beloved material to life in a way that celebrated the source yet made it her own. It was to be the album that would make her a star.
It must weigh on your psyche to have the suits tell you this is the one and then it doesn’t happen.
That’s when she chucked the whole thing, stuck up her middle finger, and formed her own damn label, Everso, for Tears Lies & Alibis (2010) and Revelation Road (2011). They were both amazingly profound and musically transcendent. There was a Christmas album and an EP last year (Thanks) but that’s been it since.
That’s why it came as something of a surprise to hear Lynne had signed with Rounder. Maybe she’s softened (I doubt it) or maybe corporate rules have lessened (doubt that too) but here we go again. In this new year, we will have the first all-new Shelby Lynne album, and if there’s a god in a heaven above (which I also doubt), it will be a blockbuster 2015 state-of-the-art singer/songwriter album that will elevate this Goddess into the pantheon of those who all adore. Hey, no pressure, right?
In the meantime, we have this newly created, quite impressive I Am Shelby Lynne package.
There is no truth to the rumor that her eagerly anticipated 2015 work will be called I Am Still Shelby Lynne.