The ironies surrounding Shelby Lynne's sixth album, 1999's "I Am Shelby Lynne," were as thick as mutant kudzu at the time. After a quintet of albums that garnered Lynne a ton of peer respect and negligible sales, the singer/songwriter extricated herself from a Nashville star machine that seemed determined to sculpt her talent in its witless image.
Lynne moved to California, reinvented herself as herself, enlisted the talents of producer Bill Bottrell (Sheryl Crow, Madonna) and made the stellar album that relaunched her career. Although it took awhile for "I Am" to catch on commercially, it was a critical smash from the jump; the final vindication was Lynne's Grammy win for Best New Artist, 6 albums and 13 years after her initial debut.
To celebrate the 15th anniversary of the disc, Rounder has reissued the album with six fascinating bonus tracks and a live DVD recorded at an L.A. show that Lynne performed mere months after "I Am" was released. The original album still holds up as the classic that Lynne intended it to be, as she mixed her considerable country chops with a flawless sense of pop and blue-eyed soul to create a brilliant musical mission statement in 10 tracks and 36 minutes.
Time has done nothing to diminish the power of the loping Bonnie Raitt/Sheryl Crow slowburn of "Life is Bad," the soulful Gladys-Knight-in-Memphis ache of "Leavin'," and the countrypolitan shimmer of "Where I'm From." The bonus tracks, which bulk up the CD to an hour, are steeped in the same classicism and stylistic diversity as the parent album, and they are a treat to experience a decade and a half after the fact, but they are, to a certain extent, counterparts to songs on "I Am"; it's great to finally hear them but it's easy to see why Lynne edited them in the first place. She wanted to make an 18-minute-per-side country classic and she did exactly that, a fact that comes through even with an extra side and a half along for the ride.