Rated | Alphabetical
| Highest Rated 2006
Love Gone Wrong
Shelby Lynne: Love, Shelby
Kevin Forest Moreau
2000's I Am Shelby Lynne was as sure and strong a declaration of
purpose as any artist had released in recent memory. Heralded as a bracing set
of tough, confident and smokily sexy songs steeped in country, R&B, Memphis soul
and classic rock and roll, I Am set critics' tongues to wagging and
earned Lynne, who'd toiled in the trenches of mainstream country for a few
frustrating years, a confusing (if well-deserved) Grammy for Best New Artist.
Upon accepting that award, Lynne was right in striking a note of bemusement,
seeing as she'd been kicking around Nashville for over a decade. But at the same
time, the trophy made a certain amount of sense, because I Am wiped the
slate clean, banishing from memory her previous five releases, which had veered
from mainstream country to big-band swing influences. Shelby Lynne was now a
tabula rasa, and her new career was one many observers made a note to follow
But it turns out those supporters might have spoken too soon. On the evidence
of Lynne's follow-up, the staggeringly off-track Love, Shelby, the title
of her previous effort may have been false advertising. Just who is Shelby
Lynne, really? Apparently, she's not the heartbreakingly sexy, tough-as-nails
spiritual descendant of Dusty Springfield who prowled the corners of I Am.
By contrast, the persona that emerges on Love, Shelby is much more
vulnerable and insecure, huddling for safety in the comfort of such
middle-of-the-road fare as "Trust Me" and "Wall in Your Heart." Polished to a
sleek, breezy finish by celebrity producer Glen Ballard (Alanis Morissette), Love, Shelby foregoes the visceral, soul-country grit of its predecessor for
a shiny pop sheen designed for Top 40 appeal, which proves a fatal misstep.
Granted, it's not entirely fair to judge Love, Shelby by the standard
set by its precursor rather than on its own merits. Okay, then: As a slice of
adult-contemporary pop, Love, Shelby succeeds just fine. "Bend" floats by
on a featherweight melody tailor-made for doctors' waiting rooms, while "I Can't
Wait," a declaration of I-just-wanna-be-loved longing, sounds eerily like an
early Sheryl Crow outtake, right down to the opaque self-ache of the chorus.
The uplifting "Killin' Kind," one of few songs on which Lynne claims sole
writing credit, promises a return to the Lynne of old, but Ballard, not trusting
the understated melody lurking in the chorus, loads up the vocal tracking
effects to hammer home its singalong earnestness. The sprightly "Ain't it the
Truth" also shows promise, with punchy soul horns and some snarling slide work
from ace guitarist Sonny Landreth.
But ultimately, this experiment in MOR-accessibility proves that adult
contemporary pop just isn't the right milieu for Lynne, who displays an awkward
penchant for embarrassing lyrics when she writes down for the lowest common
denominator: The fifth-grade metaphor of "Wall in Your Heart" is beneath her
talents, and "Tarpoleon Napoleon," an otherwise credible foray into torch-soul,
elicits more than its fair share of winces. Worst of all, the story-song "Jesus
on a Greyhound" is so cringingly pedestrian it's painful to hear, rendering Joan
Osborne's "One of Us" Pulitzer-worthy by comparison.
It's hard to see what anyone involved with Love, Shelby was
thinking -- save for Ballard, who puts too much trust in his heavy-handed approach
at the console. It's obvious that somewhere along the way, someone saw a
problem -- three songs, "Star Broker," "Break Me Open" and "Close to You," that
appeared on initial promotional copies were removed from the final product. But
that eleventh-hour bit of surgery wasn't quite enough. It's a shame when the
only heartbreak one can find on such a hotly-anticipated follow-up is that of
promise unfulfilled, and the only hints of sexiness come from the
head-scratching cheesecake poses that dominate the packaging. Sadly, Love
makes one feel as if I Am were a lucky fluke, rather than a seasoned
songwriter finally finding her voice.
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