Here I Am (Everso)
The bold statements in album titles such as I Am Shelby Lynne and Here I Am, from singer/songwriter/actor and resolutely independent artist Shelby Lynne, are not chest beating declarations of some egomaniac who sees her presence as sufficient to render other views, other people, redundant. It’s not a case of Trumpian triumphalism akin to “come at me you pissants and minnows, I got the cash”.
Instead they pretty much are Lynne saying here I stand, I can do no other. It is what makes her soul and country soul music, and makes her, so compelling and satisfying.
Long a recalcitrant in an industry which rewards compliance – and having emerged from the maw of country music, which values safety and compliance more than any other - in and away from her records the Alabama-native canvasses what it takes to refuse to go with the easy acceptance: in business, in relationships, in art.
Even her rather wonderful interpretation of Dusty Springfield songs, Just A Little Lovin’, was moulded by a sense of finding and fighting the constraints imposed by others.
This album is the soundtrack to a film written and directed by Cynthia Mort, and starring Lynne (who, speaking of recalcitrance, made her first film appearance as Johnny Cash’s mother in the biopic Walk The Line) as Tommy Gold, a singer who got what she wanted, fucked up a lot of what emerged, and now is wondering what she gave up – and what she might still recover – to get here.
The songs, written by Lynne and Mort, are in some ways as minimalist and out-of-the-light as the micro-budget film which was shot guerrilla style around LA. The performances in the film are in concert, studio and grimy, daytime nightclub settings, and accordingly, in these nine songs there are waves of starting-to-ascend soul, some crushed intimate moments, and much brooding intensity, rich without anything in the way of frills.
Strange Things, which opens the album, and Love You In The Morning Sun, would fit that latter category, the slowly turning rhythm of walking bass and cocktail bar piano of the former a bed for Lynne’s initial exploration of the lay of the land, then a shift into more forceful questioning just in front of sturdy backing vocals.
Revolving Broken Heart, which emerges from one of the two spoken words extracts from the film, is by contrast so raw and simultaneously relaxed, bringing a gentleness to the layered voices around her that matches her closely miked vocals, and to the shapes of guitar and piano. It is beautifully paired with Weather, which is low key soul that touches church and bedroom, both songs allowing room for tenderness and not just pain.
Ending side one – yes, this is only available for now on vinyl: no one said it was all easy – is the all too short Lovefear which is as gorgeous a couple of minutes as you’ll find outside her Just A Little Lovin’, a brief moment of implied lush life.
When Love Is Coming – nothing but voice and guitar – comes out of a spoken section on the connection between artist and audience, there’s a kind of country wreck feel about it that puts you in mind of those men who sang about the bottle and the hurtin’ without rancour, just acceptance. Down but not yet out.
But even here, Don’t Even Believe lifts everything immediately, the hurt here consoled by the warmth of the rich organ and the touch of joy that seems the birthright of a certain kind of southern soul. That means that the exposed nerves in Off My Mind, a torch song whose saxophone works like smoke trails, are not as raw as they might be.
That the album ends on the title track’s mighty, but simply played (piano and voice), ballad of strength, care and hope, that could have come from Dinah Washington as much as Aretha Franklin, is in itself a surge of defiance, a reminder that surviving matters.
Here I am, I am Tommy Gold. Shelby Lynne. You.