Review: Shelby Lynne
I had a hunch. The opportunity to see a true-blue celebrity like the dramatically underrated Shelby Lynne, up close and personal, in a place like Hugh’s Room was too good to be true. An enthusiastic, sold-out crowd confirmed my suspicions – the stage was more than set for something special.
At the same time, this petite, 42-year old firecracker brings with her the gloriously unsettling feeling that comes with not really knowing what to expect from her. Promoting her latest disc on her own label, “Tears, Lies & Alibis”, Lynne arrived, stripped down to little more than her rich catalogue of originals, an acoustic guitar (its strap emblazoned with a sequined “Shelvis”) and accompanying, multi-string whiz kid, John Jackson.
This was a room packed with true fans: from glitzy, big haired country girls dressed to the 9s to singer-songwriter aficionados and rockers with an appreciation for great songwriting and colourful delivery. An audience that covers this much ground speaks volumes about the artist. Playing a generous double set, Lynne tripped through equal parts new material and classics like “Johnny Met June”, “Where Am I Now?”, “I’m Alive” and “Leavin’”.
As Lynne dug deep, revealing pure emotions through her heartfelt lyrics, Jackson layered each composition with a gentle barrage of sophisticated tints and tones. As the audience absorbed each performance in pin-drop proportions, clearly moved more by Lynne’s larger-than-life stage presence and obvious abilities, she seemed momentarily taken aback to find herself among friends – translating to an even more intently-focused Lynne, lifting her craft even higher in the bargain.
Burying herself within each lyric, Lynne is beyond vulnerable which is, perhaps, her key appeal. As a songwriter, she’s a bottomless pit of heart-piercing material that celebrates loneliness, promoting, at the same time, living with extreme passion. As an interpreter of other’s music, she’s unstoppable in her inventiveness, dipping into musical genres like different hues of paint, having covered off country, Western swing, soul, roots-rock, blues, jazz and most things in-between across her 12-album output in less than 21 years.
Even if she’s channeling Dusty Springfield – as she did beautifully with the soulful “Willie and Laura Mae Jones“– she’s her own person. This tough little rebel is, if nothing else is obvious, a fiercely-committed artist who has done things her way, remaining totally in-charge. Case in point was the new material showcased: “Like A Fool”, “Something to be Said About Airstreams” and “Why Didn’t You Call Me?” – each reminding the listener of her innate ability to dress a lyric in highly complementary clothing.
With only Jackson’s sturdy support on slide or dobro to back her up, each song came through in vivid Technicolor, wrapped up in the degree of confidence that only comes with having survived so much in such a short time and on her own terms. Granted she was selling these songs to the already-converted, she was clearly giving it her all across a generous double-set that seemed over far too soon. Thank goodness for her “this-is-never-going-to-be-on-a- record” drawer, the source for so much of the material on “Tears, Lies & Alibis”.
Rest assured, she’s got a closet-full to come and, despite the fact she vanished after her encore – hardly the norm for the meet ’n’ greet environment of Hugh’s Room – here’s hoping she comes back to give us more.
Click photo above to initiate slideshow.
All photos by Eric Thom.