Lynne torches through new disc

Robert Loy, September 1995

Mention the name Shelby Lynne to country music fans and you'll get one of two reactions - a knowing nod and a smile from the ones who discovered the artist Tammy Wynette said has "the best voice in country music" and Entertainment Weekly called "the hippest woman in Nashville" - or a head scratch and a comment along the lines of "Shelby Lynne? Isn't she Loretta Lynn's sister or something?"

Both responses are understandable. Shelby Lynne does indeed deliver - to those in the know, who consider her their secret - an irresistibly unique blend of country, Texas swing and big band music that is true to her varied musical roots but with a contemporary, progressive even, edge to it.

Her music is hard to describe, yet difficult not to tap your feet and sing along with.

And almost impossible to find on the radio.

"Yeah, sure," Lynne said in her unmistakable Alabama drawl, "The lack of radio support bothers me sometimes. But I like what I do, a lot of people like it too. There's no reason to dwell on stuff you can't do anything about. On the whole I'm happy where I am."

Where Lynne is has a lot to do with where she's been.

"Growing up in Mobile, I listened to everything from Bob Wills to the Mills Brothers, Elvis and Streisand - throw a little Ella in there," said Lynne, 26. "But there was probably more country in my house than anything else."

"I knew when I saw seven or eight years old that I wanted to be a singer," she said. "It was the first thing I wanted to be, and it's still the only thing I've ever wanted to be. I've always felt the need to sing. I never considered doing anything else."

Music was a haven for the young Lynne.

And she would need a haven. When she was 17, her father shot her mother and then turned the gun on himself. As part of the healing process, Lynne took that pain and turned it into passion toward music and singleness of purpose for a musical career.

One year after the tragedy, Lynne landed a guest stint on TNN's Nashville Now. The next day, she received four record contract offers.

She signed with Epic Records. Three albums, at least one hit single ("Things Are Tough All Over") and several "differences of artistic opinion" later, Lynne jumped to Morgan Creek, where she released "Temptation,"a big band tribute to the western swing music of Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys.

"Temptation" garnered a lot of critical acclaim but, except for the single "Feeling Kind of Lonely Tonight," which made some headway on the charts, was largely ignored by radio and overlooked at record stores.

"Then Morgan Creek decided they didn't want to be a record label anymore," Lynne said of the company, which produced films like "Dances With Wolves."

Jim Mazza from Morgan Creek started Magnatone Records in Nashville. "I had a working relationship with Jim, and so I came along with him," Lynne said. "Sort of a package deal."

Lynne's first package from Magnatone is "Restless." The title does not refer - as one might think - to Lynne's habit of changing record labels. It is steel guitar driven, big band swinging, undeniably country, unmistakably Shelby Lynne.

The first single, "Slow Me Down," ironically is anything but slow. It's a bluesy, peppy, romantic song about living - or longing to live - life in the slow lane.

"Being a Southern girl," Lynne said. "I like talking about the South and its beauty. The bottom line is I wanted to write a song about true Southern elegance." The video for "Slow Me Down"has received a lot of play on CMT and TNN, maybe because the camera loves the telegenic Ms. Lynne and the way she effortlessly morphs from sweet-tough Southern Belle to pants-suited hip-swiveler who out-Elvises the King himself.

Asked about how important videos are for selling records, Lynne said, "As far as I'm concerned, in my career, they're the best - maybe the only selling point I've got. We just finished the video for the second single "I'm Not The One," and I'm very happy with it. I think people will like it. It's different, I'll say that. It's got a really good feel to it."

Further proof of Lynne's versatility is found in the fact that half of the 10 songs on "Restless" were co-written by her.

Asked about the song-writing process, Lynne said, "Writing is not a passion of mine. It is not something I look forward to doing, like singing is. But there are a couple of fellas that I enjoy hanging around with, talking and making music. And sometimes when we're hanging out, songs will come together and come to us - that is, they come to us after many hours of hard work. They don't just fall down into our laps."

The more one listens to "Restless," the more one finds it intriguing. The mystery about how torch singing came to be so named is cleared up when Lynne slows it down while keeping things hot on numbers like "Wish I Knew" and "I'm Not The One."

And it isn't until about the 10th or 12th listen that you realize how great the back-up singers are, ever harmonious, never obtrusive. A closer listen and a more careful perusal of the album credits reveals that all of the harmony vocals on Lynne's "Restless" are performed by none other than Shelby Lynne.

You might be starting to sense that Lynne is a bit of a perfectionist, and maybe this is part of the reason why she has acquired her reputation as being, well, difficult.

"The only thing I can say about that is I have a vision of what my music is supposed to sound like," she said. "Nobody could possibly understand that vision better than I do. And I do not compromise when it comes to music. Compromise leads to the situation you find on country radio now, where there is a lot of repetition in sound and in image - people look and sound the same. This isn't healthy. I just know a lot of those people started out with a unique, personal style of music, and they got swallowed up by the machine and lost that along the way.

"And of course, although this is changing somewhat, it's still true that if you have any opinion at all - especially if you're a woman - then they're going to call you difficult," she said.

Asked about what her hopes for "Restless" are, Lynne, currently on tour in support of the album, headlining some dates, backing up Vince Gill or The Mavericks on others, said, "Believe it or not, I haven't really thought about it. If it does well, that's great, of course. But if it doesn't, I'm still happy with my life and my career. Thankful I get the chance to do what I've always wanted to do."

Lynne may be a bit nebulous about her future plans, but in the song "Swingtown" which closes out "Restless" she does reveal something of her hopes for the long-range future.

"If I walked up to those pearly gates
And met Bob Wills that'd be great.
Tell Ole Satchmo to come around
We'll all get down in Swingtown
And let the heavens swing with all their melodies,
Put their names upon a big marquis,
And if they need someone to sing a harmony
If I'm there please let 'em call on me."

Shelby Lynne and the Hereafter All-Star Country Swing Band?

Sounds heavenly.

© Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •