Shelby Lynne‘s been making records for almost twenty years now. Her first album, Sunrise, was released in 1989 on Epic. It took about ten years for me to find my way to her. In 2000 she released a stunning album titled I Am Shelby Lynne. Now, I’ll be honest, I’ve never heard any of her earlier albums (she made a total of five before I Am Shelby Lynne), but my understanding is that they are pretty much straight ahead country in the 90s Nashville vein. I think they’re almost all out of print now. I have a few of them, so one of these days I’ll get around to listening to them. I think she had some success, but apparently she didn’t feel like she was making the kind of music she really wanted to make. Somewhere I read a great review or heard something about I Am Shelby Lynne, so I picked it up and was just blown away. This was not country music, this was Southern blue-eyed soul music along the lines of Tony Joe White and Dan Penn but by a woman with a killer voice and a real attitude. It was a complete reinvention of herself and it worked. It worked damn well. So well in fact that Lynne received the Grammy that year for “Best New Artist.” Which is just so damn typical of everything that is wrong with the Grammy awards. I mean how do you get an award for Best New Artist when you’ve made six records during the past ten years? Whatever. I’m happy for her, but it’s just silly. The record itself was what should have received a Grammy. Bill Bottrell produced the album (he also produced Sheryl Crow’s first album) and some of the credit has to go to him. He co-wrote just about every song on the album with Lynne and does a superb job of matching the texture and atmosphere of the music to each song and Lynne’s singing. But in the end, it was Lynne that really made the album something special. She’s a terrific singer and this batch of songs was suited perfectly to her style and her voice. It’s a minor masterpiece.
Lynne made three more albums after I Am Shelby Lynne. Unfortunately, none of them were anywhere near the level of that album. Bottrell was gone, replaced by Lynne herself on two of them. I had high hopes for each one but was ultimately disappointed and the three of them together don’t get anywhere near the spins I still give I Am Shelby Lynne. But, I love that album so much that I’m still willing to give a new release of hers the benefit of the doubt and hope that maybe she’s found her way back to that magic place.
So, along comes Just A Little Lovin’. “Inspired By Dusty Springfield” it say prominently on the cover. On paper this sounds fantastic. What a great idea. Lynne singing Dusty Springfield classics like “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me,” “I Only Want To Be With You,” “Breakfast In Bed” and “The Look Of Love.” What could go wrong? Well, I’m not sure I can put my finger on exactly what did go wrong, but it certainly is not the album I had hoped for. Now I’ve got no problem with covers. I love covers. An inspired cover version of a great song can be a truly wonderful thing. But the first rule of covering a song should be to bring something new to the remake. Otherwise you just make me want to listen to the original version. You’ve got to put your own mark, your own stamp on the song for it to work. A perfect cover pays obvious homage to the original in a brand new, unique way. That just doesn’t happen here. In a word, this album is boring. It’s way, way too sleepy. Dusty Springfield was a master of making a slow ballad seem animated, even effervescent. The songs might indeed be “slow” songs but between Springfield’s singing and the usually brilliant production even a slow song became a lively pop nugget.
Lynne and Producer Phil Ramone approach these songs with way too much reverence. It’s like a dusty, seldom visited museum. And everything seems slowed down to the point where everything just blends together and one song seems just like the previous one. None of the spark, the soul or the buoyancy present in so much of Springfield’s music seems present here. It’s plodding and dull. It just doesn’t work. All it makes me want to do is throw on Dusty In Memphis (which I’m actually listening to now as I write this) or The Very Best Of Dusty Springfield. And unfortunately that’s about the worst thing I can say about a collection of cover songs. Now, I will say that I’ve only given this disc a few spins so far. I can’t see how, but it’s always possible it will grow on me with a few more listens. I’d like to hope so, I just don’t have much faith that it will. I had a hard time getting through the last listen.
I bought my copy of this at Best Buy and it includes an exclusive DVD. Well, it’s not much of a DVD, it’s just two live performances filmed at what looks to be a show celebrating the release of the album in Nashville. It’s even more of a let down than the album. Lynne practically sleepwalks through “Breakfast In Bed” and “Wishin’ And Hopin’.” I mean, come on, “Wishin’ And Hopin'” is like a bottle of champagne, it should be full of sparkle and bounce, but here it’s just plain flat.