Friday, July 15, 2005

Shelby Lynne - Suit Yourself (2005)

I became an immediate Shelby Lynne fan when I heard her great 2000 CD I Am Shelby Lynne. It was an album that started her transition away from being a pure country singer and into a singer-songwriter where her country roots were liberally interspersed with R&B, delta blues, and even some rock and roll. On that album, which remains her classic, country took a back seat to these other influences.

Lynne's followup, 2001's Love, Shelby, was a step backward. An unfortunate cover of John Lennon's "Mother" is proof Lynne was trying too hard to please the critics. Her eclecticism on this CD seemed forced. Happily she redeemed herself two years later with Indentity Crisis, but it took her until now, with the release of Suit Yourself, her ninth album, to come up with a disc almost as good as I Am Shelby Lynne.

Suit Yourself has a much looser feel than most of Lynne's other albums. It often feels like we are sitting in on recording session rehearsals because snippets of conversations and false starts are left uncut on a few of the tracks. Some of the songs were demos she recorded at home and brought into the studio to finish. The rest are full band arrangements recorded in Nashville.

Benmont Tench, from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and who seems to be listed as a session player on everyone's albums, plays keyboards. His organ is the instrumental star of "You Don't Have A Heart." Tench also adds some pedal steel and mandolin. Robby Turner plays one of my favorite folk instruments, the dobro, and the legendary Tony Joe White (Do you remember "Polk Salad Annie" from the late 60s?) plays guitar. Lynne covers two of White's songs including the classic "Rainy Night In Georgia" which closes out the CD.

It is easy to listen to Lynne because she is a great singer and, because her songs all have something to say, you feel fulfilled.

If you like your country music to be sung by a lady with great pipes who is alternately earthy, bluesy, and even occasionally rocking, I suggest you pick up a copy of Suit Yourself. Shelby Lynne is your kind of singer-songwriter if you are tired of today's slick radio fodder that calls itself "country" as long as you speak "Southern" and wear a cowboy hat.

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