Shelby Knows Best

The current pop music scene is littered with artists who are managed, marketed and manipulated by agents, lawyers, publicists, producers and record company honchos eager for instant hits. Many of them will have short-lived careers and will be lucky to find a cameo on a reality show five years from now. Shelby Lynne will have none of that.

After spending half of her life on one record label or another, Lynne is striking out on her own with her Tears, Lies and Alibis, her first album on her Everso Records. After listening to this new album, it’s obvious that when Lynne does things her way, on her own terms, she comes up with something truly special. The last time Lynne made such a bold move, it became a launching pad for her place in music as an uncompromising, indefinable artist whose talents as a songwriter are only eclipsed by her singing, which is one of the best in music today. That album, I Am Shelby Lynne, released in 1999, drew comparisons to such albums as the classic Dusty In Memphis from Dusty Springfield and Ray Charles’ Modern Sounds In Country & Western Music. After years as an ingénue country artist, Lynne abandoned being pigeonholed as just a country hitmaker and dazzled critics who thought an album that mixed authentic country music, r&b and modern music couldn’t be made to stand alongside such artists as the aforementioned Springfield and Charles.

Lynne has continued to make fine albums but, while continuously receiving critical acclaim, she has not had the kind of record company support to have sales match the critical success. Last year’s album of mostly covers of Springfield songs, Just A Little Lovin’, produced by Phil Ramone, garnered Lynne a sprawling feature profile in the New York Times Magazine that covered such topics as Lynne’s troubled childhood. That childhood included an abusive father who turned violent, murdering Lynne’s mother and killing himself, which forced the then 17-year-old to support her younger sister, singer Allison Moorer. Her toughness and feisty demeanor have served Lynne well, making her one of the most honest songwriters in music today and securing her a place in music among the greatest singers since the 60s.

In advance of the album release, Lynne spoke from her home in Palm Springs for the first time about this new exciting chapter in her life. Brash without being arrogant, and peppering her conversation with salty language, Lynne is nobody’s fool. She began our interview talking about the stripped down, sparse sound of her new album.

“I like a record to have a life of its own and have space to breathe,” she began. “It gives the listener a way to fill in the blanks.”

The album is filled with songs that are sometimes sad and sometimes angry, but heartfelt and honest when summing up the state of modern relationships. Lynne talked about the songwriting process.

“I never have any plan in writing,” she stated. “The songs just kind of happen and if I feel like it’s decent, I’ll just keep letting it do its thing. My hand holds the pen and the pen does the writing, and if I’m feeling like it’s good, then I’ll keep writing.”

Growing agitated, but excited about her new direction, Lynne talked about why she started her own label. “I’m sick of record labels. I’ve been on record labels since I was 19 (Lynne was born in 1968). It’s time for the artists to take the music back. It’s just time and I’m just overjoyed about it. At the end of the day I can actually sleep at night and I haven’t experienced that before with the labels. It’s been a pretty miserable experience.”

Lynne has quite a supporting cast on the album, including such legendary musicians as Spooner Oldham (famed Muscle Shoals keyboardist, who graced Neil Young’s Harvest and many other legendary sessions) and David Hood, who also was part of Rick Hall’s Fame Studios core crew. If now running her own record company is not enough, Lynne has been slowly building an impressive acting career including portraying Carrie Cash in the acclaimed Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line. As for acting, Lynne said, “It gives you a break from having to be you all the time.”

In summing up her new direction, Lynne, in her very straightforward, plain-speaking way, succinctly stated, “You have to take chances.”