Shelby Lynne sings with such down-home authority it’s easy to forget that she’s always been as reliant on the kindness of producers as any of her more formulaic counterparts. Critics of Nashville’s corporate groupthink (including Lynne herself) like to point to Epic’s misuse of her in the late 80s and early 90s, but as astounding as her 2000 breakthrough, I Am Shelby Lynne, turned out to be, it offered no evidence that Lynne had a preexisting vision that was being compromised or thwarted. The arrangements of producer (and erstwhile Sheryl Crow collaborator) Bill Bottrell constantly battled with the star for the spotlight, making the album title seem a tad ironic. Lynne started getting drunk in public (she was once escorted off a plane for singing out loud) and skanking it up for the glossies, career moves still less inexplicable than her decision to team with Alanis Morissette producer Glen Ballard for the awful, slick Love, Shelby. All of this is to say that Lynne’s new Identity Crisis (Capitol), the first disc entirely written and produced by her, isn’t quite a return to form, since she has no distinct form to return to. But she’s finally crafted a sound that suits her–without the help or hindrance of a collaborator. Some tracks are practically genre exercises (the retooled Chicago blues of “Evil Man”), others direct homages (the Patsy Cline seance “Lonesome”), but such no-frills material gives Lynne a chance to show off as a singer–she stretches the word lonesome into six syllables–and as a producer, multitracking harmonies to make the most of her voice and emphasizing details like the great low bass piano intro to “Ten Rocks.” The groove rolls in support of her, and even at her most heartbroken she sounds like a woman comfortable for once in her own skin. Tuesday, October 21, 9 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, 773-478-4408; also 12:30 PM, Borders Books & Music, 150 N. State, 312-606-0750.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Crump.