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.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Black 47 - Elvis Murphy's Green Suede Shoes (2005)

With Elvis Murphy's Green Suede Shoes Black 47 has flied out to the warning track. Their last two wonderful studio CDs, 2000's Trouble In The Land and last year's New York Town, were grand slam home runs so it is unfortunate that the band's latest falls short. Yet we shouldn't complain. Even Joe Dimaggios's hitting streak had to come to an end.

The problems are two-fold. Larry Kirwan's voice, which is often far from pleasant, was less troublesome on this disc's two predecessors because he compensated for it nicely. The second, and even bigger problem, is musically the band seems to have run out of ideas. While Kirwan is once again lyrically great, (The man can spin a yarn as well as Bob Dylan) the arrangements have become stale and repetitive. This CD's "Uncle Jim" is a dead ringer for their earlier "Czechoslovakia," and at certain points, "The Day They Set Jim Larkin Free" could be mistaken for their classic "James Connelly."

Another questionable Black 47 trait is the recycling of old songs on new releases. In the past the band re-recorded their old songs, updating the arrangements. This time out they didn't even bother to do that. Instead they lifted three songs wholesale off of Kirwan's solo CD Kilroy Was Here.

Not only is Black 47 retreading songs, the band is now retreading album titles. This CD's title, which is a companion to the memoir that Larry Kirwan wrote of the same name, is too close to their 1996 CD Green Suede Shoes.

I was hoping once again that Elvis Murphy's Green Suede Shoes would follow in the footsteps of their other recent releases and become my favorite CD of the year. Unfortunately, as one might say to a hitter chasing Dimaggio's record, "Wait until next year."