Last week, Wind Back Wednesday enjoyed an all too brief soak in the majesty that is Dusty Springfield’s Dusty In Memphis. The splendour that is Dusty can’t be touched. This is known.
But Shelby Lynne, a woman without fear but with abundant talent and smarts, didn’t just touch, she dived headfirst into the songs of Dusty Springfield for 2008’s Just A Little Lovin’. It was a triumph then. It’s a triumph still.
Just A Little Lovin' (Lost Highway/Universal)
There is some logic in covering Dusty Springfield.
The best of the songs are some of the best of a decade not exactly short of quality; most of them are known, even if almost subliminally, given she didn't always have the hits commensurate with the quality she displayed; and there is a deep well of respect, even love, for Dusty Springfield among a great number of music critics and the occasional radio/TV programmer who may have heard a record or two.
Of course, as Tina Arena discovered last year with her covers album of modern soul/pop classics (an album which began as a full Dusty tribute), and even more so with her live performance of those songs, you set yourself up for a comparison that is never going to end well.
Too many people try to sing like Dusty and end up sounding overblown (missing the subtlety in her brassiness), underdone (missing the strength in her vulnerability) or too precise (missing the soul in everything).
Since her semi-breakthrough album I Am Shelby Lynne, Alabama's Shelby Lynne has been compared more than once with the great British singer for her blending of country and soul in the mould of Dusty In Memphis. An album of Dusty covers is a natural if risky move then but Lynne is too smart, too good, to fall into the familiar traps.
The most striking element in her approach is to pull everything back: the arrangements, the sound, the singing and the emotion. The vocals are in the centre, the instrumentation just on the surface, she never raises her voice or cracks but there's no hiding exactly what she feels.
This is simmering rather than boiling, intimate and slowly revealing rather than smacking you in the face with technique or attitude.
It makes you focus on the voice (adult, strong but showing its scars) and the words (adult, strong but showing its scars) as much as those melodies.
It takes the title track and introduces a new note of time-worn thinking which hovers between weariness and optimism. It transforms I Only Want To Be With You into a reflective night-time moment. It brings out a bit more sultriness in Breakfast In Bed and a deep bruise of knowledge in Anyone Who Had A Heart.
Lynne's own Pretend slips into this company seamlessly, another examination of adult relationships and their fragilities sung with deep soul.
It's the final confirmation that this isn't a singer who tries to be Dusty Springfield; this is a singer who understands Dusty Springfield.