My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: Shelby Lynne

Album Review: Lari White – ‘Don’t Fence Me In’

dont-fence-me-inThe singles from Wishes would prove to be the peak of Lari White’s popularity. The followup album, Don’t Fence Me In, which saw her stretch her wings artistically, was less successful in the marketplace.

The first single, ‘Ready, Willing And Able’, is quite a good mid-tempo song about being open to falling in love, which Lari delivers with commitment. It was written by Jess Leary and Jody Alan Sweet, and reached the top 20.

The only other single, the vivacious up-tempo ‘Wild At Heart’, failed to make the top 40, and combined with unspectacular sales of the album led to RCA dropping Lari. Lari wrote it with Al Anderson, and it’s pretty good and well performed.

‘Ain’t Gonna Worry About Love No More’ (written by Michael Noble) is in a similar contemporary up-tempo vein.

Lari wrote three songs with her husband Chuck Cannon. The best of these, ‘Something Blue’, is a bluesy torch song about a marriage in the course of disintegrating:

Our love is something old
Her kiss is something new
And now we live on borrowed time
Cause all that’s left is something blue

The upbeat poppy ‘Do It Again’ affirms the narrator’s past choices and mistakes. ‘Next To Love’ is fairly forgettable filler.

‘Ghost Of A Chance’, written by Lari with Chuck Jones, is a low key soulful ballad about fighting the unseen rival of her partner’s ex, with some nice fiddle. This is excellent, and my favourite track.

I also like another ballad, ’The Test’ (written by Don Schlitz and Billy Livsey), although it feels a little bit contrived. A married woman reviews the strength of her relationship on paper, listing all the fights and bad times, which makes her think it must be over – but set against that she has just one positive: she loves him.

‘I’ve Been Waiting For Your Love’ is a pretty AC-leaning ballad written by Stephony Smith and Terry Burns, with some nice fiddle. ‘Woman Of The World’ is an upbeat song about women as survivors.

Rather pretentiously, two tracks have short teasers earlier in the set list. The title track is the Cole Porter-penned standard. Right at the start of the album Lari sings the first chorus fairly straight, with harmony singers Trisha Yearwood and SShelby Lynne, but with old dusty vinyl sound effects. Then almost at the end of the album she launches into a speeded up rockabilly take on the song. It doesn’t really work for me.

Similarly, ‘Soul Searchin’ Blues’ starts out randomly inserted three quarters of the way through with one verse, and then continues right at the end. This is a straight blues tune.

The record is not particularly country, and certainly not traditional, but Lari White was a very talented singer and songwriter, and if you like a slightly poppy/jazzy/AC edge to your country, this album is well worth while.

Although Lari would enjoy one more top 20 hit with ‘Stepping Stone’ on a new label, Lyric Street , and then a top 20 duet with Travis Tritt, that was the end of her mainsteam success.

Album Review: Della Mae – ‘Della Mae’

DM_cover_5x5_300RGB2015 has already been an exceptional year for releases from roots and Americana based artists. Sets from Rhiannon Giddens, Punch Brothers, Gretchen Peters, Alison Moorer, and Shelby Lynne are some of the year’s strongest; with more standout moments then one can count off hand. The eponymous third album from Della Mae, out last month on Rounder Records, is worthy addition to that hallowed list.

The Boston-bred Della Mae, who formed in 2009, consist of Celia Woodsmith on guitar, Kimber Ludiker on fiddle, Jenni Lyn Gardner on mandolin, and Courtney Hartman on guitar and banjo. The foursome shares the vocal duties on the album, which was produced by Jacquire King.

The album is anchored by Woodsmith’s distinctive voice, deep and swampy, like a preacher sent from a higher power to deliver upon us a message we can’t help but want to hear. Her songwriting prospective is just as sharp, beautifully evidenced on five of the album’s very diverse tunes co-written with Hartman.

Nowhere is the power of her voice more evident then on album closer “High Away Gone,” a gospel-tinged number that recalls Gillian Welch and Alison Krauss’ duet of “I’ll Fly Away” from O Brother, Where Art Thou? “Rude Awakening” blends mandolin, guitar, and fiddle quite sadistically, while serving as a battle cry for eliminating stagnation from one’s tired life. “Can’t Go Back” is a softer ballad featuring gentle acoustic guitar with the thought-provoking hook, “if you never go, you can’t go back again.”

“Shambles” is a stunning folksy kiss-off about a girl carrying on with her life, while her man continues to dig himself into an increasingly deeper hole. “Take One Day” is a sunny banjo-driven change of pace, and one of the best straightforward bluegrass numbers I’ve heard in a long time.

The album’s standout track, “Boston Town,” is the first single. Woodsmith, who penned the track solo, has the guts to create a modern-day workingwoman’s anthem the dives headfirst into wage equality. She beautifully structures the lyric to juxtapose the physical pain of the work with the emotional ruin of disrespect. She drives her message home without hitting us over the head, a fine achievement for anyone tackling a hot-button issue.

Hartman takes the lyrical reins on “For the Sake of My Heart,” a tender ballad about reconnecting with one’s homeland. She also teams up with Sara Siskind for “Long Shadow,” a mid-tempo number beaming with acoustic texture.

To round out the album, the band looked to outside inspirations including covering two tracks previously done by other country artists. They managed to outshine Emmylou Harris with their take on The Low Anthem’s “To Ohio,” which was more grounded then Harris’ wispy 2011 recording. They were less successful on a cover of The Rolling Stones’ “No Expectations.” It wasn’t terrible, but Nanci Griffith proved the song, in her 1997 version, deserves more imagination than they brought.

The album rounds out with Phoebe Hunt and Matt Rollings “Good Blood,” the second true uptempo number on the album, and a vocal showcase for Gardner. Woodsmith has an incredible voice with enough color and nuance to wrap around just about anything and make it her own, but Gardner’s pure twang is just as powerful and a welcomed change of pace.

Della Mae is a very strong album that traverses a wide expanse of ground in a quick thirty-eight minutes. Woodsmith proves she’s not only an incredibly gifted foundation for the group vocally, but she has a sharp pen as well. In a world where there is an embarrassment of riches with regards to banjo, fiddle, and mandolin based groups it’s easy to overlook Della Mae. But to ignore them is to miss out on tight musicianship and four women with unique substantive perspectives.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Allison Moorer ft Shelby Lynne – ‘Bring Me All Your Lovin”

Album Review: Allison Moorer – ‘Down To Believing’

down to believingAllison Moorer’s first release since the end of her marriage to Steve Earle is filled with personal songs inspired by her life. She has long since left country music behind, and this is effectively genreless singer-songwriter fare.

There are a few tracks I really liked. The title track is a pretty, delicate ballad with a dreamlike feel about the final stages of the relationship:

Comin’ down wasn’t easy but we tried our best
Said we used it up and didn’t put any back
Now you look so surprised ‘cause there ain’t none left
And we’re just empty hearted and sad

I guess it comes down to believing and whether we do or we don’t
Guess it comes down to stayin’ or leavin’ and whether we will or we won’t

A haunting steel guitar adds to the melancholic mood, although the song’s structure is not conventionally country.

‘If I Was Stronger’ is a lovely sounding thoughtful piano-led ballad about the wearying effect of a bad relationship with no communication:

Wish there was something in my heart to give you
But I’ve felt around and nothing’s left
I’ve tried to dig deeper but I’ve hit the bottom
I got to let go and save myself…

I’m tired of talking cause you just ain’t giving
You turn away each time I speak
Now my soul is weary, threadbare and broken
And arms that were open feel so weak

If I was stronger I’d hold on longer
I’d be your saviour and I’d stay

‘Gonna Get It Wrong’ is another excellent song, stripped down both musically and emotionally, about surviving failure.

‘Blood’, inspired by Allison’s relationship with sister Shelby, offers a more positive view of love, and is pretty good. ‘Wish I’ isn’t bad, although the instrumental backing is a little overwhelming. Allison’s cover of John Fogerty’s ‘Have You Ever Seen The Rain?’ is nicely sung but doesn’t really add anything to the song.

Of the tracks I really didn’t care for, ‘Like It Used To Be’ is angry, flat and lacking in melody. ‘I Lost My Crystal Ball’ has more life but is not for me. ‘Thunderstorm/Hurricane’ is more subdued in parts, but Allison’s voice sounds strained in others and I really disliked the rock backings. However, it was not the worst track for me – that was the very repetitive and pop sounding ‘Back Of My Mind’, which sounds like something Taylor Swift would do.

‘Mama Let the Wolf In’ was inspired by her autistic five year old son and is too loud and repetitive for my taste, but it has a certain power. ‘Tear Me Apart’ has a hypnotic rhythm which grabs the attention, although again it’s not the kind of thing I would choose to listen to. ‘I’m Doing Fine’ is just rather dull.

It’s hard to judge an album like this fairly, because while it is a strong artistic statement it doesn’t pretend to be a country record (notwithstanding the occasional use of steel guitar). Just because I don’t like a lot of it doesn’t make it bad per se – but I can’t honestly recommend something I don’t much like beyond a few tracks.

Grade: B-

Album Review – Shelby Lynne – ‘I Can’t Imagine’

1035x1035-ShelbyLynne_FinalCover_RGBFor the first time in twenty years Shelby Lynne has recorded an album outside of Southern California, where she first found her artistic voice on I Am Shelby Lynne. The sessions for I Can’t Imagine, her fifth self-produced set, took place at Dockside Studio in Maurice, Louisiana.

The album continues Lynne’s penchant for jazzy acoustic ballads, a signature of her most recent work. The title track, a co-write with Pete Donnelly, was issued as the lead single. An excellent mid-tempo ballad, the track centers on a breakup with a woman friend sympathizing with the man, unable to comprehend what he must be feeling.

Lynne co-wrote half the album, while she authored the other half solo. On the self-penned tracks, Lynne finds herself exploring themes of exploration and self-examination. She desires to find herself within the woman she’s become on “Back Porch, Front Door” while she longs for her place in this world on “Son of a Gun,” which straightforwardly references her mother’s death. “Following You” centers on a flashback to her childhood, where she’s more observant of her father’s habits then she chooses to let on.

She finally breaks on “Paper Van Gogh,” the soaring centerpiece that opens the album with a defiant roar. Lynne leads with the record’s greatest statement, that little in her life is organic and real, a mantra that threads the personal confessions that follow. Rock thumper “Down Here” is the columniation of her five-track odyssey, where she seeks comfort in her relationship to God, the only person who knows who she feels truly knows her.

These tracks are wonderful explorations of Lynne’s broken soul, segmented into different fractions of her shattered spirit. While they transmit a decided lyrical heaviness, she keeps them approachable by giving each moment enough tempo to engage the audience. We hear her pain because prodding arrangements don’t bog us down.

Lynne finds some positivity in “Love Is Strong,” a co-write with Canadian Singer-Songwriter Ron Sexsmith. Even though her vocal may suggest otherwise, she feels newly born; an odd one-off on an album filled with despair. Her other co-write with Sexsmith, “Be In The Now” is the album’s lone anthem, a battle cry to enjoy the present for it isn’t as bad as the darkness that surrounds it.

“Sold The Devil (Sunshine)” is the lone track Lynne co-wrote with Mavericks guitarist Ben Peeler. The song rests on the brilliant metaphor “we sold the devil a dash of sunshine,” one of the greatest ways of describing desperation I’ve ever heard.

“Better,” the other track co-written with Donnelly, is an ambiguous ballad with a beautifully poetic lyric. The protagonist is stronger now that she’s without her man, better off now that he’s long gone.

I Can’t Imagine is as emotional an album as you’re going to find this year, a project that finds Lynne in a strong a voice as she’s ever been. It’s an incredible glimpse into her psyche as she battles the demons that have followed her for most of her life. It’s a journey well worth taking with an artist who gets better and better with each passing album.

Grade: A

Album Review: Allison Moorer – ‘The Hardest Part’

412ARG3SR7LOne could easily be forgiven for confusing Allison Moorer for Shelby Lynne because their voices are remarkably similar. However, Moorer’s early music is a lot more rootsy than her older sister’s work at the same stage in her career. And while Lynne has mostly avoided discussing the violent murder-suicide that claimed the lives of their parents, Moorer tackled the issue head-on with her sophomore album.

Released in 2000 by MCA, The Hardest Part is an album of all original material written by Moorer and her then-husband Doyle Lee Primm, who co–produced the project with Kenny Greenberg. According to Moorer, it is not a factual recounting of her parents’ tragic story, rather it is a concept album about a disintegrating relationship and was inspired by what she saw her mother endure after she left Moorer’s alcoholic father. Surprisingly, this is not the downer of an album one might be expecting. While the songs are not lighthearted fare, they are, for the most part, typical break-up songs that have long been a staple of country music. Listeners who aren’t familiar with Moorer’s backstory won’t consider the album anything out of the ordinary.

Not surprisingly, the album’s more traditional tracks are my favorites, from the title track that opens the album, to “Is It Worth It” and “Feeling That Feeling Again”, which is the best song on the album. The more contemporary tracks, while enjoyable and still containing plenty of fiddle and steel, are a bit heavy on the strings and electric guitar for my liking.

The most moving song on the album is the one that directly addresses the night Moorer’s parents died. “Cold, Cold Earth”, a hidden track at the end of the album, is an acoustic murder ballad that is surprisingly sympathetic to her father. At times it comes close to excusing his actions. Attempting to reconcile with his family, Moorer’s father becomes despondent and “drunk with grief and loneliness, he wasn’t thinking straight”, and shoots his ex-wife and then himself when it becomes clear she isn’t interested in reconciling. Even as a work of fiction, it would be a sad story, but it’s absolutely tragic to think that the singer is recounting a personal experience.

The Hardest Part produced two radio singles, “Send Down An Angel” and “Think It Over” which charted at #66 and #57, respectively, but despite its lack of hits the album itself reached #26 on the albums chart. It’s a very good album that might have fared better if it had been released a few years earlier. In 2000 when Shania Twain and Faith Hill were having huge crossover hits, it wasn’t what country radio wanted. It is, however, well worth checking out.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Shelby Lynne – ‘Slow Me Down’

This was Shelby’s last charting country single:

Classic Rewind: Shelby Lynne – ‘Tell Me I’m Crazy’

Classic Rewind: Shelby Lynne – ‘Another Chance At Love’

Album Review: Allison Moorer – ‘Alabama Song’

alabama songI was disappointed when Shelby Lynne abandoned country music as she had seemed to have so much unrealised potential. But just as she did so, her younger sister emerged, with just as good a voice but a more rootsy sound and more subtle approach. She was launched upon the public with her song ‘A Soft Place To Fall’, a beautiful ballad which appeared on the soundtrack of Robert Redford’s film The Horse Whisperer, and its Oscar nomination gave Allison a national platform when she performed it at the awards ceremony. A tenderly delivered song about seeking temporary comfort in an old love, it is, quite simply, beautiful with a melancholic undertone.

Allison Moorer’s debut album was launched on MCA in 1998, produced by her husband and regular cowriter Doyle “Butch” Primm and Kenny Greenberg. Allison and Primm wrote the majority of the songs together. The overarching mood is gently sad, and the majority of the songs are melodic ballads with steel guitar prominent in the tasteful arrangements.

‘Pardon Me’ is an excellent pained country ballad with lovely steel about struggling to understand a breakup, with the occasional tart line:

You say you’ve lost the love you felt for me
Well baby, you won’t find it if you leave

She is defiant again in ‘Set You Free’ as the ex is on his way out the door – or is it mere face-saving bravado?

In ‘I Found A Letter’ (a standout), the protagonist finds herself a betrayed wife who knows the sweet love letters were based on a lie. Later, in deeply melancholic mood, she decides it’s ‘Easier To Forget’ than dwell on the heartbreak of the past, backed up by the weeping sadness of the steel guitar. The loungy ballad ‘Tell Me Baby’ is less country, but very well performed, and another take on love and loss.

‘Call My Name’ dwells on the ongoing sorrow from a long-gone love (possibly dead). The album closes with the most downbeat song of the lot – the bleakly funereal ‘Is Heaven Good Enough For You’, which may have been inspired by her parents’ tragic death, although it does not address it specifically.

The up-tempo shuffle ‘The One That Got Away’ (a co-write with Kostas) is much more upbeat musically, with Allison sounding quite cheerful although it’s another song about a broken heart.

The wearied ‘Long Black Train’ (not the Josh Turner hit) is about struggling to make it in Nashville, and being ready to give up the dream and head back home. The wistful title track also yearns for home.

This is not a happy album, but it is a great one which deserves to be better known. I wish Allison had kept on in this vein.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Shelby Lynne – ‘Feeling Kind Of Lonely Tonight’

Classic Rewind: Shelby Lynne and George Jones – ‘Take Me’

Classic Rewind: Shelby Lynne – ‘Don’t Cross Your Heart’

Album Review: Shelby Lynne – ‘I Am Shelby Lynne’

220px-I_Am_Shelby_LynneIn 1998, Shelby Lynne moved to Palm Spring, California to work with producer Bill Bottrell on her seventh studio album. A year later the results of those sessions emerged as I Am Shelby Lynne. The project remains her magnum opus, a singular work that cathartically unleashed her wild abandon and announced her arrival as a fully-formed artist who finally found her own identity.

Lynne unleashed the heavily produced 60s throwback “Your Lies” as the project’s lead single, with crashing drums and drenching strings startling the listener awake. The slow-burning “Leavin,” in which she recites the verses in a sexy whisper, came next. The final single found her embracing radio-friendly pop, with hints of Bonnie Raitt in her vocal performance. “Gotta Get Back” was justly rewarded and became the project’s only sizeable hit, peaking at #26 on the Hot AC chart.

The three singles, all of which are uniquely excellent, couldn’t be more different yet sonically cohesive enough to work as small pieces of the larger puzzle that is I Am Shelby Lynne. Of even greater significance, “Your Lies” and “Leavin,” open the album hitting the listener with an adventurous sonic sucker punch that takes us on a unique and joyous journey to parts unknown.

That unfamiliar territory led south to Hollywood, where the producers of Bridget Jones’ Diary plucked the ethereal ballad “Dreamsome” for use in the film. It’s an ambiguous selection for an otherwise upbeat romantic comedy, but it works splendidly as a stand-alone recording.

Lynne had a hand in co-writing each of the tracks on I Am Shelby Lynne, including eight with Bottrell. The pair cover vast lyrical acreage, from the esoteric stream-of-consciousness of “Life Is Bad” to the emotional confrontation of “Thought It Would Be Easier.” She subtly addresses her new direction on “Where I’m From,” declaring “never far away from Alabama frame of mind.”

“Why Can’t You Be” is a contextually vague thumper that works from the prospective of Lynne lamenting the end of a romantic relationship, but evolves into brilliance if she’s actually singing about herself, painting the picture that it’s her who’s “the only enemy.” “Lookin’ Up” foreshadows the journey to come, offering sonic glimpses into such projects as Just A Little Lovin’ and I Can’t Imagine. The lyric itself seeps with delicious venom and finds Lynne on the warpath for “the next thing that brings me down.” The original edition of I Am Shelby Lynne closes with “Black Light Blue,” a too-slow string drenched ballad that continues Lynne’s penchant for esoteric stream-of-consciousness songwriting.

To commemorate the album’s fifteenth anniversary, Rounder Records released a deluxe edition complete with six previously unreleased songs and a concert DVD. The six unearthed tunes including a seven minute acoustic ballad entitled “The Sky Is Purple,” in which Lynne addresses her teenage years through a revelatory vocal performance. “Should’ve Been Better” is a pep infused slice of funk, “Wind” is gorgeous pop ballad, and “She Knows Where She Goes” is melodically country. “Miss You Sissy” and “Bless The Fool” lean smooth jazz.

The relationship between Lynne and Bottrell, who also helmed Sheryl Crow’s Tuesday Night Music Club, recalls Emmylou Harris’ reinvention with Daniel Lanois on Wrecking Ball. Like Harris’ seminal classic, I Am Shelby Lynne is a masterpiece that showcases Lynne in her most unbridled form. She richly deserved the Best New Artist Grammy Award she won courtesy of this project, even though, after six previous albums, she logically shouldn’t have been eligible at all.

Lynne hasn’t reached these heights since, but she also hasn’t tried, which is the mark of an astute artist. I Am Shelby Lynne is the rare album that stands in a class by itself where no other project by its maker can even come close to surpassing its brilliance. I Am Shelby Lynne is an ageless beauty.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: Shelby Lynne – ‘Things Are Tough All Over’

This was Shelby’s biggest country hit:

Album Review: Shelby Lynne – ‘Restless’

51aMwLjN8yLShelby Lynne parted ways with Epic after three albums, all of which underperformed commercially, citing a lack of creative control as one of the reasons for her departure. She’d decided that if country radio wasn’t going to embrace her, she at least wanted critical acclaim and the freedom to go in different musical directions if she so chose. Temptation, her first post-Epic release had little to do with country music, but the follow-up Restless, is a different story. It is widely regarded as a western swing album, but it also has some elements of blues, as well as some more mainstream fare which suggested that Shelby hadn’t completely given up on the idea of having some radio hits.

Restless was issued by a different label than Temptation — originally issued by Magnatone and later re-released by Curb, but retained most of the personnel that had worked on the previous album. Brent Maher was back on board as producer and, along with Jamie O’Hara, as a co-writer on several of the album’s tracks. Shelby herself had a hand in writing six of the album’s ten tracks. I was slightly underwhelmed by the opening track and lead single “Slow Me Down”, which was the album’s only charting single, peaking at #59. It was followed up by the non-charting and more mainstream “I’m Not The One”, which really deserved more attention and likely could have been a hit for a more established artist. “Another Chance at Love”, the final single, is a pure western swing number which is excellent but probably not the most commercially viable choice in a radio environment which at the time was preoccupied with the crossover music of Shania Twain. “Hey Now, Little Darling” might have been a better choice, but by this time it was quite obvious that radio wasn’t much interested in anything Shelby had to offer.

I’m a big western swing fan, so there is much here for me to like: the title track, “Reach For The Rhythm” and “Swingtown” are all excellent. The blues-laced “Just For The Touch of Your Hand” is not quite as good but still enjoyable. It sounds tailor-made for Wynonna Judd, which is not surprising given Maher’s and O’Hara’s long association with Wynonna and The Judds. The pop-tinged ballad “Wish I Knew” is well performed but seems out of place on this album. The album’s best track is the underrated Jamie O’Hara gem “Talkin’ To Myself Again”, which had become the final Top 20 hit for Tammy Wynette almost a decade earlier.

Like its predecessors, Restless was a commercial disappointment and resulted in the end of the country phase of Shelby’s career and the beginning of a series of albums that explored various styles of pop. It is however, my favorite Shelby Lynne album. If you are only going to own one of her albums, make it this one.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Shelby Lynne – ‘Lie Myself To Sleep’

Album Review: Shelby Lynne – ‘Temptation’

temptationAfter three albums had failed to break Shelby Lynne, she parted ways with Epic. Her music had always been a little more eclectic than most of her peers, but now she began to experiment more. Although it was still marketed as country music and recorded in Nashville with seasoned session musicians, her work with producer Brent Maher for her new label Morgan Creek (in association with Mercury Records) drew more deeply from the wells of jazz and big band than even the countrypolitan end of country music.

She was still marketed as a country artist, but unsurprisingly the country radio which had been unreceptive to her more conventional material was even less so to her new direction. Lead single ‘Feeling Kind Of Lonely Tonight’ got minimal airplay, peaking at a dismal #69 on the Billboard country chart, although it has a catchy tune and arrangement and is quite enjoyable. Interestingly, Brent Maher wrote or co-wrote all but two of the songs, most of them with Jamie O’Hara.

‘Tell Me I’m Crazy’, one of the two outside songs, didn’t chart at all, although it is a very nice Patsy Cline style ballad written by Mike Reid and Rory Michael Bourke, and is beautifully sung.

Even better is my favourite song on the album (not coincidentally, the only other song Brent Maher had no hand in). ‘I Need A Heart To Come Home To’ is a lovely sad ballad written by John Barlow Jarvis and Russell Smith about loneliness and the temptation of reconnecting with an old flame:

Something happened the night you kissed me
My will to love was born again
Your tenderness has convinced me
What a lonely fool I’ve been

I need a heart to come home to
Give me all the love I never knew
I need a heart to hold on to
I need a sweet sweetheart like you

Both song and performance are excellent, and the track featured on the soundtrack of hit movie True Romance.

Shelby co-wrote the title track with Maher and Jamie O’Hara, and this bold, brassy tune is a bit lacking in melody or real emotional impact, with an assertive attitude which doesn’t quite fit the self-searching lyric. The trio also wrote the similarly styled ‘Some Of That True Love’, where the swing arrangement fits the song better.

The understated mid-tempo ‘Little Unlucky At Love’, written by Maher and O’Hara, is quite good, but the pair’s ‘Come A Little Closer’ and ‘Don’t Cry For Me’, written by Maher alone, are forgettable big band.

I disliked the bluesy, soul-influenced ‘The Rain Might Wash Your Love Away’ (written by Maher with Don Potter and Don Schlitz, mainly for its annoying spoken segments. However the sophisticated minor-keyed jazz ballad ‘Where Do We Go From Here’ is very well done.

This is one of those records which is tough to assign a letter grade to. It is well sung and played, and Shelby sounds thoroughly engaged with her material, but most of it is not really to my personal tastes. As a jazz-inflected record for a general audience, it is very good; but it has little to do with country music other than the personnel.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Shelby Lynne – ‘I Love You So Much It Hurts’

Album Review: Shelby Lynne – ‘Soft Talk’

SoftTalkJames Stroud sat at the helm of Shelby Lynne’s third Epic album, Soft Talk. Released in 1991, the project performed anemically both at radio and retail. The album peaked at #55, while the two singles failed to chart any higher then the record.

A duet with Les Taylor, “The Very First Lasting Love” peaked at #50. The second and final single, “Don’t Cross Your Heart,” did slightly worse peaking at #54.

“I’ve Learned To Live” is an excellent mid-tempo contemporary styled number written by Dean Dillon and Frank Dycus. Lynne powerfully expresses the tale of a woman coming back from unimaginable loss, vowing to continue living.

Max D. Barnes, Skip Ewing, and Troy Seals co-wrote “A Lighter Shade of Blue,” a dobro soaked ballad. A story about lost love, she’s having trouble moving on yet is not as affected by the turn of events as she thought she would be.

“You Can’t Break A Broken Heart” is an excellent uptempo bluesy number accentuated with harmonica and a prominent drumbeat. Chuck Jones and Chris Waters’ biting lyric coupled with Stroud’s understated production gives Lynne the ideal space from which to vocally soar.

The title track is another affecting ballad, one that starts off slow before Lynne takes it to the next level. While not the most memorable lyric, she brilliantly tackles what she has to work with.

Jim Lauderdale and John Leventhal co-wrote, “Stop Me,” another contemporary styled ballad in which Lynne delivers vocally. Her throaty voice saves what would otherwise be a bland affair, which is unmistakably pop-country, down to the twangy guitars and ribbons of steel guitar. It also just might be her best vocal on the whole project.

“It Might Be Me” is a piano and guitar based ballad that gives way to a meatier production as the track progresses. Since it’s another ballad it easily gets lost in the shuffle and offers only more of the same found on the other tracks.

In the twenty-four years since being released, Soft Talk has gone out of print and only a handful of its ten tracks have resurfaced on her Epic Recordings compilation project released at the turn of the century. It’s a shame because the album is very good even if it isn’t very radio friendly. I was taken aback that the production contained a lot of contemporary 80s country spillovers, but it was pleasant to listen to none the same.

Lynne, like Kelly Willis, may’ve been on a major label, but their music just wasn’t that appealing to the masses and thus they never caught on in that way. That doesn’t mean they aren’t extremely talented and should be overlooked. Soft Talk may be heavy on ballads but it finds Lynne saving the day with her powerful voice. It’s worth tracking down a cheap used copy if you’ve never heard it.

Grade: B+