Shelby Lynne (Everso/Cooking Vinyl)
“I would rather have a thousand men putting guns on me than this lovefear running through my veins.”
If Shelby Lynne has conflicted feelings about being an artist in this industry – and given she knows better than most the way it chews up people, spits them out in pieces & then tells them to do it again but with shinier smiles, you better believe she does – it’s nothing like the conflicted feelings she has about love.
It kills her that she still feels it, that she can believe that it’s “another way to keep the colour in the sky, to make the dark go away, to keep my tears from crying”, that it can in fact make her feel something good about the day or herself.
It kills her because there’s an equally insistent side of her which knows deep in her bones that love will destroy your sense of worth, your sense of self … your sense, and leave you in a moment where “I’m starting to embrace all my weaknesses, they’ve become my favourite acquaintance/None of my friends console me anymore”.
But breaking at least two of her rules, Lynne is back with new songs and back being open to and about love, reminding us that “strange things go down when love hangs around”.
(Back too in wider distribution. Several of these songs were written with writer/director Cynthia Mort for Mort’s film When We Kill The Creators, where Lynne plays a complex, self-destructive, fucked over by the business, but not yet abandoned singer, whose performances are captured live in simple, sometimes brutal intimacy. Those songs first appeared on 2018’s vinyl-only release, Here I Am, which was the film’s title then.)
In line with the film’s approach, while there’s an echo of her career-redefining sixth album, I Am Shelby Lynne, in this album’s title and reclamation of ground that by rights should just be ceded to her, sonically this is a record closer to two of my favourites of hers, Identity Crisis and Just A Little Lovin’.
Like them it’s recorded with few embellishments or contributors, so that although the likes of Benmont Tench and Mimi Friedman play roles, most of the instruments and extra vocals are handled by Lynne. Including saxophone, which she hasn’t played for some 30 years.
It’s not raw but it is close-quarters. Which puts so much of the weight on the songwriting and the singing: if either were to falter across these 47 minutes there’s little to “rescue” the material.
Spoiler alert – neither falter.
Leaning into these quietly burning soul ballads, Lynne sounds like she’s rippling with emotion but never wastes a second on flourishes. In the emotional wreckage that is Revolving Broken Heart, she sounds buckled but not broken in weary, carefully balanced tones; there’s a delicacy through all of My Mind’s Riot that somehow still cuts through; in Lovefear she pitches higher, letting the need reach through and letting the coo of the backing vocals cushion the result.
That internal debate over love courses through each song, veering more one way then another as needed, whether greeting the joy and threat of Love Is Coming with a nervy edge, or building a tensile grip (with a never quite blowsy blues guitar) in the late expansiveness of The Equation; whether spinning with something nearly giddy in I Got You (which Daryl Hall should poach for his next album) or not just holding onto respect and dignity alongside the purposeful piano in Here I Am, but claiming the higher ground and the final word.
In the Muscle Shoals-dipped Don’t Even Believe In Love – organ thoughtful, guitar curious, drums shuffling you right into the groove – Lynne warns herself not go to there, desperately wishing she could find a way to convince herself this feeling isn’t enough. But she gives in. Because she must.
It’s fear and it’s love and it’s everything else. It’s soul, it’s torch song, it’s hard wrought country.
And she fixes it straight.
Damn she’s good.