Report: Shelby Lynne Live in Kentucky

 

 

At Newport’s
Southgate House on September 11, Lynn takes the stage looking like David Bowie’s rockabilly
sister while channeling the spirits of Tony Joe White, Dusty Springfield and Jimmy Webb.

 

By Steven Rosen

 

Just in case there was ever any doubt, Shelby Lynne plays by
nobody’s rules but her own. When word got out that she was touring behind her
new, introspective Tears, Lies & Alibis album with just an accompanying guitarist – and would play mostly acoustic
guitar, herself – the assumption was a sedate, theater-style show, with Lynne
the troubadour seated on stage telling stories between songs. It’d have an
early start and end. You know, the unplugged tour.

 

So somewhere past 10:30 p.m. on a Saturday night at
Southgate House in Newport, Ky. (essentially Cincinnati), after a very strong
but already distant opening set by Matthew Mayfield of Birmingham, Ala., Lynne
took the stage looking like David Bowie’s rockabilly sister – carrying a
gleaming black-and-white electric guitar, boyishly cut blonde hair twirled up
in front, studded jacket, tight jeans, high-heeled black leather boots. Her
accompanist, the less-stunningly outfitted John Jackson, nevertheless had a
guitar with the most resplendent shade of yellow this side of a sunrise. They
plugged in – standing – and went into a dark, tough blues-rock tune with a
“Mystery Train”-like groove, the older “I’m Alive.” She made clear she was there
to rock – to front a band of two.

 

This may have well have been the perfect tone for the venue
– an old roadhouse with a ballroom that has good sound but won’t win any awards
for its scruffy, minimalist décor. But actually, the approach initially posed a
problem – for the first and last time – on the second song, the delicately
wistful “Why Didn’t You Call Me” from the new album. It seemed rushed and
uptight with the electric accompaniment. But then everything clicked into
place, and even though Lynne switched to an amplified acoustic for most of the
set, this “band of two” collaborated on an intense, commanding, alert set.

 

As she slowly introduced herself to the audience with short,
concise remarks – spoken in her calming, raised-in-Alabama drawl – Lynne made
it clear she wasn’t trying to channel Wanda Jackson or Gene Vincent. She wasn’t
trying to be a hard, stone-cold rocker. She just liked the sound that she and
Jackson made together – and presumably their performance style.

 

 She never actually said
that specifically, but it was evident in her smile when her fantastic
accompanist finished the lightning-fast strumming on his steel guitar during
the rumbling “Life Is Bad” or fired off explosively concise, melodic phrases
during a stretched-out “Jesus on a Greyhound” that by turns echoed Richard
Thompson and Jerry Garcia.

 

Lynne is proud that she started her own label, Everso, to
release Tears, Lies and Alibis, departing
Lost Highway
to do so. Why she left, exactly, is a mystery. Introducing the new “Something
to Be Said,” her dreamily descriptive tribute to highway trailers, she said, “I
wrote a song about Airstreams and they didn’t get it.” So she split.

 

But what’s not to get? This evocative mid-tempo song –
quintessential Americana – is equal to Jimmy
Webb’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” or
“Wichita Lineman,” and contains a memorable line for anyone who equates the California desert with
freedom: “Maybe I’ll stop in Needles/say
hello to all my people.”
(She now lives in southern California.) It received the night’s longest and loudest applause, save for the
show closer.

 

Her interest in the sturdily constructed, classily sung pop
of the 1960s and 1970s led Lynne in 2008 to record a tribute to songs made
popular by Dusty Springfield, Just a
Little Lovin.’
But the song she performed from that album was “Pretend,”
her own composition. Free from the Springfield
association, bathed in history, it emerged as a memorable contemporary
composition about love’s difficulties, a melancholy torch song that transcends
genre or era.

 

The Webb and Springfield
influences probably influence her more lyrical side, also evident in the gentle
way she sang the “did you miss me” part of the transfixing “Dreamsome.” But
Lynne also loves the swampy, Southern country-blues of Tony Joe White (“Polk
Salad Annie”). Several of her more gnarly songs shared his funky attitude, none
more so than “Can’t Go Back Home,” which she told the audience she wrote with
White.

 

It was late – after midnight – by the time she finished her
encore. Relaxed, knowing her show had been a success, she commented that, “I’ll
be a good Southerner and leave you with a good Southern song.” “Iced Tea”
followed – a great relaxing chaser to the show that preceded it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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