Shelby Lynne has had rather an up and down career over the last 15 years or so, mainly due to her refusal to be typecast in any way. Since her first album, Stardust, in 1989, she moved from traditional country to jazz, AOR rock, blues and roots music. It was only when the Grammy nominated I Am Shelby Lynne was released in 2000 that she finally begin to gain the acclaim and record sales that were her due.
In typically contrary fashion though, the follow up, Love Shelby, was hampered by a souped up production style and it was only on 2003’s Identity Crisis she found her feet again. Unlike the title may have suggested, that was a focused, consistent record with a rough and ready production sound that suited her down to the ground.
It’s obviously a sound she’s at ease with, for Suit Yourself continues the template laid down by Identity Crisis. This is a remarkably relaxed album, from the studio chatter and false start of opening Go With It, to the sound of ice cubes being clinked together during You And We right up to the sound of the record button being clicked at the end of Sleep.
Yet this isn’t a collection of demo versions that Lynne’s just cobbled together. Some of Lynne’s finest songs can be found here, and going by the runaway success of female singer/songwriters in recent years, it could well open her up to a whole new audience.
Fans of Sheryl Crow will find much to enjoy in Go With It, an uptempo rocker that showcases Lynne’s fine band to the best of their ability. However, the tone is more set by the more reflective, acoustic numbers. Where Am I Now features Lynne’s low, smokey vocal over a beautifully strummed acoustic, with the plaintive chorus of “where am I now, how did I end up in this place again?” tugging at the heartstrings.
Johnny Met June is one of the highlights of the album, a tribute to the late Johnny Cash, and written about the love he had for his late wife, June Carter Cash and their reunion in Heaven. It has the potential to be maudlin and overly sentimental, but is instead touching and poignant. It’s one of the best things that Lynne has ever recorded.
There’s also the smoky blues of I Cry Everyday (with more informal studio chatter, which suits the song’s laidback style), and the breezy, defiant strum of I Won’t Die Along. Lynne also employs country artist Tony Joe White in her band, and covers two of his songs for good measure. Old Times Sake is an aching ballad, but it’s the enigmatically titled Track 12 that’s the real surprise.
Track 12 is actually the much covered Rainy Night In Georgia (previous renditions include those by Brooke Benton and Randy Crawford) and Lynne makes it her own. It’s seven languid minutes that turns into something of a jam session by the end, and is a suitably relaxed ending to the album.
This is certainly a record that Lynne’s made to suit herself, and it sounds all the better for it. There’s no reason why this can’t nestle snugly alongside Norah Jones in record collections around the world, and it certainly deserves to. Her best album yet.