Review by Fred Rudofsky
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
No, she didn’t bring a band, fancy guitar work or a belt-it-to-the-ceiling, Dusty Springfield approach (though she should have, some critics may quibble). No, Shelby Lynne arrived at The Egg to deliver an astounding set of nineteen songs old and new with a whole lot of country soul. The night was a revelation road, to cite the title song of Lynne’s latest album, which opened the show.
After a sublime “Lead Me Love,” Lynne – clad in black and playing a red Gibson acoustic – joked, “Thank you for coming out on date night!” Shifting gears, she reminisced about her Alabama childhood, singing three-part harmony with her little sister (recording artist Allison Moorer) and their mother in the car. Her childhood was a mixture of light and dark, as was the soul-baring “I’ll Hold Your Head.” A spine-tingling a cappella gospel introduction set the stage for “Woebegone,” a song that hinged on the haunting line, “I should have seen it coming.”
For many familiar with Lynne’s 2000 breakthrough album “I Am Shelby Lynne,” the stripped down “Lookin’ Up” must been jarring, but it was an ethereal, beguiling tribute to her influences – Hank, Kris, Dolly and Loretta. “Even Angels” featured shifts in tempo and whispered contrasts, great insights into her humor and resilience. “I Won’t Leave You,” a sweet ode to friendship and the self-deprecating declaration of “I Don’t Need a Reason to Cry” revealed that the range of her concerns was only just beginning.
The most-talked about song on “Revelation Road” has been, without a doubt, the autobiographical “Heaven’s Only Days Down the Road.” To hear it in a small theater left an indelible impression. In this often break-neck song, Lynne imagined her father’s mindset as a mix of deep pain, fear and heart-breaking rationalizations the week that he decided to murder his wife and take his own life, leaving 17-year-old Shelby and her sister alone in the world. Lynne’s soaring voice expressed the heartache without histrionics. The story was heart-rending. The performance was riveting. It was akin to seeing John Lennon in his prime perform the primal-scream dirge, “Mother.”
The shift to the wry epiphany of “Jesus on a Greyhound” was unexpected, yet it worked perfectly. Little details spoke volumes. “Leavin’ ” captured the heartbreak of deciding to be independent, while “Old Dog” (an ode to her beloved Junior from 2010’s “Tears, Lies and Alibis”) was prefaced in a way that Johnny Cash would’ve enjoyed: “I love singing for y’all, but I miss my dog!” The Man in Black and his soulmate, June Carter, were reunited in Lynne’s powerful 2005 ode to love eternal, “When Johnny Met June.” Equally
impressive was “Ten Rocks,” which rocked the gospel blues with a cathartic tone, a joyous Lynne strumming her guitar like she was Keith Richards’ little sister leading a full choir.
Four more songs from “I Am Shelby Lynne” closed out the night, and they were extraordinary to hear without all the instruments and production treatment. “Dreamsome” sounded like a Jimmy Webb demo with Aretha Franklin sitting in; “Life Is Bad” brought some Southern sass in pocket; “Your Lies” prompted a few audible “Wow!” moments from the audience; and “Where I’m From” took everybody home to an “Alabama state of mind,” in which Lynne recalled: “Crickets spreadin’ rumors by the shoreline/ with the lonesome lady whine/ crab trap full of nothin’ / I’m high as the tide, all the time.”
Though the show clocked in under 80 minutes without an encore, Lynne spent an extended time in the lobby, signing autographs and posing for pictures with fans young and old. She was gracious, charming and fun. What more could anyone ask for? How about a return engagement real soon, Shelby?
Greg Haymes’ review at The Times Union
Excerpt from Michael Hochanadel’s review at The Daily Gazette: “She raised her arms in triumph as she took the stage, then strapped on an acoustic six-string and outlined her mission of self-exploration in ‘Revelation Road,’ then the gentle ‘Lead Me Love,’ the fervent promise of ‘I’ll Hold Your Head’ and the emotional lament ‘Woebegone’ — the first time she cut her voice fully loose to soar. After paying homage to heroes Hank Williams, Kris Kristofferson, Jimmy Webb, Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn, she reached back into her own songbook to note heartbreak — ‘the next thing that brings me down’ — is never far away. Then she returned to ‘Revelation Road’ songs — ‘Even Angels,’ ‘I Won’t Leave You,’ ‘I Don’t Need a Reason to Cry,’ ‘Thief’ and ‘Heaven’s Only Days Down the Road.’ If these are uniform — united, rather — in their candor in exploring childhood, they showed real musical mastery Friday in her stripped-down renditions. She strummed or picked her guitar in sparse but effective accompaniment, mostly at relaxed tempos but rocking ‘Heaven’ and ‘Jesus on a Greyhound.’ And she sang — wow, how she sang! — simply and strongly.”
SHELBY LYNNE SET LIST
Lead Me Love
I’ll Hold Your Hand
I Won’t Leave You
I Don’t Need a Reason to Cry
Heaven’s Only Days Down the Road
Jesus On a Greyhound
Johnny Met June
Life Is Bad
Where I’m From