Plays Well With Others (Single Lock Records/Cooking Vinyl)
This album makes me want to light up. And I don’t smoke.
It makes me want to order an Old Fashioned and absently push the bruise on my arm, still vivid from the slammed door I didn’t quite get out of the way of as it careened towards me. And I don’t like bourbon.
This album is a regret I’m going to enjoy having, a heart murmur I won’t lose. It’s a calling card left behind by a friend on the day things slipped between past rules and future arrangements. It’s a tough-skinned record that is so very easy to absorb, while always promising an extra moment, an extra insight around the next corner, on the next listen.
An album of duets which pits Lynn against/along a Seers Catalogue of co-writers/co-singers but leaves you with the sense of a singular (artistic) voice, Plays Well With Others is both accurately and deceptively titled.
This is in the main a case of well-matched pairings – though strictly speaking in some songs the other voice is more an echo or back-in-the-mix presence - often with people for whom working with others is not new. And mostly, but not exclusively on original songs, with TV On The Radio’s Wolf Like Me (its original intensity partially traded for a new ache at its edges – and a banjo) and the country standard, Almost Persuaded (one of two with John Paul White, done in this case with a fuss-free, retro ear) seemingly at extremes of influence; in truth wholly fitting in with Lynn’s aesthetic.
Whether White (who knows a thing or two about close quarters duet after his tumultuous time in The Civil Wars), Rodney Crowell (who isn’t exactly a novice in the duet game either, most recently with his old mucker Emmylou Harris) or Shovels & Rope (whose Cary Anne Hearst and Michael Trent are, after all, already in a duo), these complementary voices work in and around Lynn.
The duet with Crowell, Crimson Underground – her voice a weave; his voice a series of stitches – feels older than all of us, like a folk song dug up and baring its timeless truth that metaphorically or in reality, blood will be spilt when things go wrong but that’s not the worst thing. “Well I can see, it don't feel right/Hanging on with all your might/Let go of all control/You're allowed to free your soul/And trust, my love, lay that burden down/Welcome to the crimson underground.”
The not quite right element in the album title is that Lynn is at the centre of everything here and it is everyone else who plays with her, adapting to her innate sombreness (as distinct from sadness, I should note). Or, if you like, her leaning to Roy Orbison whose influence is felt the most in In Another Life, where she and Nicole Atkins all but don the dark shades and dark suits.
That sombreness is even there in the acoustic bustle of Nothing To Do With Your Love, where she and J.D. McPherson kick from honky tonk to rock bar and, oddly enough, feel like Shelby Lynne and Alison Moorer in action.
It might be assumed by the contributors that Plays Well With Others is a country/roots album. However, it might be guessed from the mix of covers in among the originals that there’s more at play here than that. It’s tone rather than style that links everything.
Like her Nashville base, Lynn’s pulling from a lot of places here and shaping something less specific and more “American” – whatever that means today. Maybe it’s best summarised as a nation-wide playing well with others.