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Lynne, Shelby

Shelby Lynne

Singer, songwriter

Shelby Lynne, like musicians such as Lyle Lovett and k.d. lang who preceded her, was destined to become an exceptionally gifted singer and songwriter whose talent proved too broad for the confines of country music. "Unlike many more popular artists," noted Miriam Longino in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "whose pleasant voices tend to sound interchangeable on radio, Lynne can wrap her pipes around a song to squeeze every choke, growl and he-done-me-wrong out of it. She has the guts and delivery of Patsy Cline laid over the choo-choo boogie of Asleep at the Wheel." Though she walked away with the Academy of Country Music Award for best new female artist in 1991 and was hawked as a mainstream country singer early in her career, Lynne's roots are nonetheless firmly planted in history, beckoning back to Dusty Springfield's Memphis-era recordings, as well as the nearly-forgotten western swing, big-band sound of Bob Wills. At the same time, however, Lynne has mined the past sparingly, most notably on her acclaimed 2000 release I Am Shelby Lynne, enabling her own identity to filter through.

A teen phenomenon in the 1980s who was signed the day she arrived in Nashville, Lynne, a small girl with a grand, soulful voice, seemed poised for stardom. However, after three record deals, none of which yielded significant radio hits, Nashville's Music Row had given up hopes of making Lynne the next Patty Loveless or Tanya Tucker. Not only could she belt out torch songs and country standards on a par with the best, Lynne could also sing in other tones: "a drooping twang, a bluesy moan, conversational asides or the confiding delicacy of a jazz singer," wrote John Parles in a New York Times review. A notorious Nashville rebel to boot, Lynne failed to fit into the country music industry's cookie-cutter ideal. Nonetheless, Lynne never held any doubts about her talent or her career choice. "I was born a star," she added. "That's not the issue."

Born on October 22, 1968, in Quantico, Virginia, Shelby Lynne Moorer was raised in the south Alabama swamp town of Jackson in the even smaller settlement of Frankville, population 150. Lynne discovered her love for music and performing at the tender age of four, when her father, a high school English teacher, lifted the youngster onto a table at Shakey's Pizza in Mobile and she sang "You Are My Sunshine" for all the other patrons. "I've always been serious about my music, since I picked up the guitar when I was 8 and taught myself to play," Lynne told Longino. "Anything I do musically is natural, and I sing it the way I feel at the time. Each song usually takes me somewhere, and I go."

Found Comfort in Her Music

Lynne was a self-described tomboy and outcast at school. By the age of ten she preferred listening to old Elvis Presley records and singing and playing guitar over making friends and studying, and found comfort from an unhappy childhood in her music. She grew up listening to her father's Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings albums, as well as to rock and roll music from the 1950s and 1960s, compliments of her mother, a legal secretary. At home, the young singer also discovered her grandmother's 78 rpm records, memorizing songs by Bob Wills, Jimmie Rodgers, and the Mills Brothers.

With her records spinning, Lynne would practice singing, using a hairbrush for a microphone and dreaming of one day becoming a star herself. Her mother, along with sister Allison, would occasionally join in, and when Lynne was 15, the harmonizing trio cut a single, a cover of the Four Knights' song "Couldn't Stay Away From You." Lynne's father also contributed to the project, the flip side of the single being one of his own originals. But the record went nowhere.

However, Lynne's father, a heavy drinker who abused his wife, didn't live to see whether the record would spark his career. In 1985 her mother fled with the two girls to nearby Mobile, but her father soon discovered their whereabouts. In 1986, in front of 17-year-old Lynne and her younger sister, he shot his wife to death before taking his own life.

Lynne refused to discuss the details of her parents' deaths with the media, but later described the impact of the tragic event on her life and career. Critics repeatedly made the narrow assumption that her pain caused her talent and artistry to surface, a connection that Lynne always detested. She told Hilburn, "Everyone says, 'She's so good [a singer] because this happened' or 'She's so difficult because …'" Lynne, known for her own drinking and rebellious nature, told Hilburn, "Maybe so, but only partially. I was just as damn difficult when I was 7 years old as I was when I was 18."

Nashville Bound

After the tragedy the girls moved in with their grandmother, who broadened Lynne's musical interests to include rhythm and blues and jazz singers. However, Lynne wanted to be on her own, and at 18 she married and moved to Nashville. The marriage lasted less than two years, but Lynne had already made important strides with her career. In the wake of a buzz generated by demo tapes as well as a chance appearance in October of 1987 singing on the TNN network's Nashville Now, she found herself recording a duet with George Jones titled "If I Could Bottle This Up," and working with Billy Sherrill, one of the most influential producers in country music. The hit-making artists he worked with included, among others, Tammy Wynette, Charlie Rich, Tanya Tucker, David Houston, and Barbara Mandrell.

"Isn't she something?" Sherrill said to Hilburn, recollecting his days of working with Lynne. "I thought she was the best thing I ever heard in my life, country-wise." Country superstar Willie Nelson, who shared a label, manager, and eventually a stage with the young singer, expressed a similar sentiment to Mark Schone of Spin: "To me, she's as good as Billie Holiday, but I knew she was going to have trouble being commercially successful in Nashville. They don't know what to do with someone that talented."

Thus, Lynne's five Nashville albums for various labels revealed only occasional moments of interest. Signing with Epic Records, Lynne released three country-pop albums, the Sherrill-produced Sunrise in 1989, Tough All Over in 1990; and the tepid Soft Talk, released in 1991.

By 1992 Lynne had begun to chafe at the style of music Epic pushed her to record. Frustrated with her label's demands, Lynne left Epic: "That was when I started taking control of how I wanted to make records. I had at that point decided I'm not gonna be able to do this until I do it for me."

For the Record …

Born Shelby Lynne Moorer on October 22, 1968, in Quantico, VA; daughter of a high school English teacher and a legal secretary; married and divorced.

Started singing at age four and playing guitar at age eight; with her mother and sister, recorded a cover of the Four Knights' song "Couldn't Stay Away From You" at the age of 15; moved to Nashville at the age of 18; appeared on TNN's Nashville Now, 1987; released three albums for Epic Records, 1989–91; released Western swing album Temptation, 1993; released her most celebrated album, I Am Shelby Lynne, on Island Records, 2000; released Love, Shelby, 2001, Identity Crisis, 2003, and Suit Yourself, 2005; appeared as Carrie Cash in the feature film Walk the Line, 2005.

Awards: Grammy Award, for Best New Artist, 2000.

Addresses: Record company—Capitol Records, 1750 N. Vine St., Los Angeles, CA 90028-5209, phone: (323)-462-6252, website: http://www.capitolrecords.com/.

Disillusioned with Music Row

Striking out on her own, Lynne remained without a label for two years. During this time the singer focused on writing songs. Those originals ended up on her acclaimed 1993 album for the short-lived Morgan Creek label, titled Temptation, an album that sought to recreate the big-band Western swing era and demonstrated Lynne's versatility. After Morgan Creek folded, Lynne moved to Nashville's independent label, Magnatone Records, to record 1995's Restless. Here, she mixed country, bluegrass, big band, and blues into an electrifying concoction, but she would later disavow her stab at another mainstream country album.

Tired of Nashville, Lynne put her singing career on hold in 1997 and moved to Mobile Bay. Soon thereafter, she found hope in Bill Bottrell, whose roots-tinged production on Sheryl Crow's 1995 debut Tuesday Night Music Club she greatly admired. From the onset, Bottrell encouraged Lynne to drop the pretense of her upbeat songs and face the tragedies in her life through her writing, including what her father had done. "I don't know if she'd want me saying this," Bottrell ventured to Schone, "but I kind of forced her to do that, and we spent months on it. The song [about the death of Lynne's parents] is called 'The Sky Is Purple,' and it's not on the album. But that's sort of how she learned to do confessional songwriting."

A creative breakthrough, the painful song helped the developing songwriter to further explore her own feelings about ruined relationships and self-doubt. Other songs that explored the darker side included "Why Can't You Be?," and "Life Is Bad," a song full of images of blood, tombs, and sinking ships that she wrote in ten minutes one morning. Lynne also returned to some of her musical roots, aside from country, spending hours reexamining the songs of Springfield, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, and The Band, all of which influenced the music for her personal lyrics.

Won Acclaim and Validation

When Lynne and Bottrell took the album to label executives, I Am Shelby Lynne was met with enthusiasm. "We were knocked out," recalled Island Records executive Jim Caparro to Hilburn. "We all felt she made a brilliant record." Island took time to put together a special marketing plan, which included releasing I Am Shelby Lynne in England first, hoping to attract attention across Europe before bringing it to the United States. The plan worked, and reviews and sales in England skyrocketed. "When the reviews started coming in from Europe, she finally felt validated," noted Bottrell.

In 1999, while patiently awaiting the album's release in America, Lynne moved to Palm Springs, California, well outside the orbit of the major music cities. "The sun is out all the time, and nobody's here," she explained to Weingarten, adding, "the only way to make a change is to do it radically." Reveling in a solitary lifestyle, Lynne spent most of her time writing songs, reading, or cruising the desert highways in a black 1960s Cadillac.

In 2000 Lynne won a Grammy for Best New Artist, a prestigious but nonetheless ironic award for someone who had been recording since 1989. In 2001 Lynne quickly followed I Am Shelby Lynne with Love, Shelby, produced by Glen Ballard. While Ballard was noted for his work with Alanis Morissette on Jagged Little Pill, critics complained that Love, Shelby was overly slick, working against the singer's earthy vocals. "In all honesty," Zac Johnson wrote in All Music Guide, "this would actually be a more successful album if her previous work hadn't been so strong." Lynne recorded her next album, Identity Crisis (2003), at her home studio in Palm Springs, determined to maintain complete artistic control. "She didn't show that album to record labels until it was finished," wrote Lawrence Specker in the Syracuse, New York, Post-Standard. "Capitol took her 'take it or leave it' offer, and released the disc in 2003 to widespread critical acclaim."

In the summer of 2005 Lynne reminded her fans of her country roots when she appeared as Johnny Cash's mother, Carrie, in Walk the Line, her first role in a feature film. Lynne was deeply moved by Cash's death in 2005, leading her to pen "Johnny Met June" for her next album, Suit Yourself. The album, released in May of 2005, was Lynn's ninth release. Relying on a number of demos recorded at home and other tracks recorded live in the studio with a band, Suit Yourself was her most down-to-earth recording. "Suit Yourself is aptly named," wrote Thom Jurek in All Music Guide, "Lynne dressed herself this time out with great players and finely wrought songs, and put it all together on her own. This is her finest moment."

With Lynne's genre-crossing music embracing soul, country, and rock, it is difficult to predict what direction her career will take next. Even Lynne no longer tries to predict the future. "I don't make many plans," she told Daniel Durchholz in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Just go with the moment, that's my motto in life. The music that I make is the music I feel has to be made at that moment."

Selected discography

Sunrise, Epic, 1989.
Tough All Over, Epic, 1990.
Soft Talk, Epic, 1991.
Temptation, Morgan Creek, 1993.
Restless, Magnatone, 1995.
I Am Shelby Lynne, Island, 2000.
Love, Shelby, Universal, 2001.
Identity Crisis, Capitol, 2003.
Suit Yourself, Capitol, 2005.
The Definitive Collection, Hip-O, 2006.

Sources

Periodicals

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 9, 1995; April 20, 2000.

Billboard, March 23, 1996.

Fortune, February 21, 2000.

Los Angeles Times, February 13, 2000.

New York Times, April 15, 2000.

People, November 22, 1993; February 26, 1996.

Post-Standard, (Syracuse, NY), May 29, 2005.

Rolling Stone, September 30, 1993; February 17, 2000.

Sarasota Herald Tribune, November 18, 2005.

Spin, March 2000, pp. 109-10.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 25, 2005.

Village Voice, April 11, 2000.

Washington Post, March 12, 2000; April 14, 2000.

Online

"Shelby Lynne," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/ (October 9, 2006).

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Lynne, Shelby

Shelby Lynne

Singer, songwriter

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

In USA Today Shelby Lynne is listed as one of 1990s hottest new country acts. The young, brooding Lynne has made a name for herself as a torch singer, a balladeer of heartbreak and disappointment who seems to feel what she sings. With her second album, Tough All Over, Lynne, 23, jumped into countrys first rank and was praised by critics as a newcomer with great promise. Lynne is thrilled with the acclaim and eager to live up to her growing reputation. I love being up on stage, and I dont mind travelling around, she told the Philadelphia Inquirer. I like everything about it. It really suits me.

Shelby Lynne is not terribly eager to discuss her childhood in print. She was born and raised in Jackson, Alabama, one of two daughters of a schoolteacher who also played and wrote country music. While Lynne was a teenager her parents separated amidst bitter quarrels. Late one night in 1986, her father returned to the home where Lynne and her sister were living with their mother. While the two girls waited inside, the parents argued in the driveway. The fight ended when Lynnes father pulled a gun, shot his estranged wife, and then shot himself.

Lynne would rather not dwell upon that tragedy, saying simply: I dont think it has anything to do with my musical career. Its not something that interests me right now. She did admit, however, that she has been putting some of her fathers lyrics to musicone way in which her profession might help her to deal with the grief.

Lynne began auditioning for jobs at music theme parks in 1987. Although she did not make the cut at the Opryland USA park in Nashville, she did attract the attention of song publisher Bob Tubert, who offered her a chance to make a demo tape. That demo earned Lynne an appearance on Nashville Now, a nightly variety show aired on the Nashville Network.

Nashville can be a particularly daunting place for young, would-be singersperformers such as Patty Loveless and Tanya Tucker nave both testified about the pressures of touring, the constant round of publicity, and the manipulation by producers and managers. Lynne seemed to take all the glitz in stride. Real pressure, she once said, is a fiddling convention when you have to win the solo voice competition because you need 25 dollars. At any rate, Lynne astounded the Nashville Now audience with her powerful vocal delivery and her composureshe was literally a standout on a show that features as many as twenty country acts each week.

The morning following her October 1987 appearance on Nashville Now, Lynne received offers from four major record labels. The one that seemed the most promising came from Billy Sherill, the producer who had engineered Tammy Wynettes successful career. Sherill helped Lynne to forge a deal with Columbia Records, and early in 1988, her debut album, Sunrise, was released.

Columbia also released a debut single, If I Could Bottle This Up, featuring Lynne in duet with George Jones. That and a subsequent single only made a fair showing on the country charts, but Lynne quickly became a sought-after opening act for the likes of Jones, Willie Nelson, Ricky Van Shelton, and Randy Travis. In retrospect, executives at Columbia declared that Sunrise was too down, with its smoldering melancholy and its sense of love gone south. Despite that assessment, however, the producers at Columbia allowed Lynne to turn in a similar work as her second release.

Tough All Over hit the stands in the summer of 1990, with much more satisfying sales. Two singles from the work made the country top twenty, Ill Lie Myself to Sleep and Tough All Overboth heartfelt torch songs that highlight Lynnes flame-thrower vocals. Music videos helped to widen Lynnes audience as

For the Record

Born in 1968 in Jackson, Alabama; daughter of a school teacher. Country singer, 1987. Signed with Columbia Records, 1987; released first album, Sunrise, 1988. Has appeared in numerous live concerts, opening for Randy Travis, Willie Nelson, George Jones, and Ricky Van Shelton; has also made numerous appearances on television show Nashville Now.

Addresses: Record company Epic Records, 51 West 52nd Street, New York, NY 10019.

they provided the perfect atmosphere for her melancholy beauty and quiet dignity. While the sale of the album and its singles was not terribly brisk, the critical reaction to Lynnes singing was quite enthusiastic. Reviewers compared her to Wynette and even to the demi-goddess Patsy Cline, ranking Tough All Over as one of the best country releases of the year.

Philadelphia Inquirer correspondent Dan DeLuca wrote: Whether the finely controlled pathos in Lynnes voice stems from some inner turmoil or is just a natural gift, it conveys a stunning sense of experience and pain for someone so young. The singer has an uncanny ease with her voice. Unlike many young powerhouses, shed rather cajole and caress a song than bully it with show of vocal force. In at least one respect Lynne does rank with Patsy Clineher bluesy numbers reach far beyond the boundaries of conventional country and are apt to find a mainstream audience someday soon.

Lynne has had few days of leisure since beginning her career in 1987. She is on the road more than one hundred nights per year, still primarily serving as an opening act to more-established stars. Despite her youth, Lynne has a distinct philosophy under which she worksshe concentrates on entertaining in a genuine style, without sugar-coating or shallow thrills. Im just here to do a job, she said, just to sing and share music with people. I just sing how I feel at the time and dont try to sound like anything Im not. I put a lot of emotion in my music, and hopefully it comes out. I dont want people to think Im up there acting or anything, because Im not. Im just a singer.

Selected discography

Sunrise, Columbia, 1988.

Tough All Over, Columbia, 1990.

Sources

Books

Vaughan, Andrew, Whos Who in New Country Music, St. Martins, 1989.

Periodicals

Philadelphia Inquirer, November 9, 1990.

USA Today Weekend, October 5-7, 1990.

Anne Janette Johnson

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Lynne, Shelby

SHELBY LYNNE

Born: Shelby Lynne Moorer; Quantico, Virginia, 22 October 1968

Genre: Country, Pop

Best-selling album since 1990: I Am Shelby Lynne (2000)

Hit songs since 1990: "Life Is Bad," "Gotta Get Back," "Killin' Kind"


Shelby Lynne is a big-voiced singer who blends country, blues, rock, and pop and whose soulful voice conveys years of pain, loneliness, and heartbreak. Sometimes compared to the rootsy and successful rock artist Sheryl Crow, Lynne had huge success with her sixth album, I Am Shelby Lynne (2000). She spent years toiling away in Nashville's songwriting system, writing and recording five albums for three different labels, including an album of big band music that, due to financial pitfalls, was never released.

Lynne's fame was hard-won. In the press release for I Am Shelby Lynne, she says, "I wanted to include more of my soul and pop influences," something that was not possible in the pigeonholing constraints of the Nashville country scene.

Lynne sought out producer Bill Bottrell, who also produced Sheryl Crow's breakthrough album Tuesday Night Music Club. Bottrell had been living, semi-retired, in northern California. The two bonded over music business bitterness and personal tragedy. The bitterness, loneliness, and self-determination that permeates I Am Shelby Lynne, an album that jumps from down-and-out blues to pop to twangy country, comes from a real place. Between the ages of seventeen and nineteen, Lynne witnessed her father shoot her mother to death and then take his own life. She raised her younger sister Alison Moorer, also a singer; she married and then divorced. Lynne's straightforwardly titled song "Life Is Bad," a bluesy rock song, conjures a picture of a worldly but hardened woman by combining images of an "inner descending hell" and the "stench of livin' on thin dimes," with a twang worthy of country singer Lucinda Williams. In the song's chorus, she drawls, "Oh, life is bad. Oh no, worst I ever had." The album reached number six on Billboard 's Heatseekers chart and won her a belated Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 2000.

The attention from I Am Shelby Lynne brought her into a film project the following year. She wrote "Killin' Kind," a pop song reminiscent of the 1960s, for the soundtrack to the film adaptation of Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary (2001). After extensive touring, Lynne returned to the studio for her more rock-oriented follow-up, Love, Shelby (2001), which she wrote and co-produced with Glen Ballard.

Though she wins comparisons to country legend Patsy Cline for her gutsy emotionalism, Lynne is her own woman. She is at her best when her tales of overcoming adversity mix the cry-in-your-beer tendencies of country with the swagger and sorrow of blues and a rock-and-roll reverence for electric guitar.

SELECTIVE DISCOGRAPHY:

I Am Shelby Lynne (Mercury, 2000); Love, Shelby (Island, 2001). Soundtrack: Bridget Jones's Diary (Universal, 2001).

carrie havranek

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Lynne, Shelby

Shelby Lynne

Singer, songwriter

For The Record

Found Comfort in Her Music

Nashville Bound

Disillusioned with Music Row

Won Acclaim and Validation

Selected discography

Sources

Shelby Lynne, like musicians such as Lyle Lovett and k.d. lang who preceded her, was destined to become famous as an exceptionally gifted singer and songwriter whose talent proved too broad for the confines of country music. Unlike many more popular artists, noted Miriam Longino in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, whose pleasant voices tend to sound interchangeable on radio, Lynne can wrap her pipes around a song to squeeze every choke, growl and he-done-me-wrong out of it. She has the guts and delivery of Patsy Cline laid over the choo-choo boogie of Asleep at the Wheel. Though she walked away with the Academy of Country Music Award for best new female artist in 1991 and was hawked as a mainstream country singer early in her career, Lynnes roots are nonetheless firmly planted in history, beckoning back to Dusty Springfields Memphis-era recordings, as well as the nearly-forgotten western swing, big-band sound of Bob Wills. At the same time, however, Lynne mines the past sparingly, most notably on her acclaimed 2000 release/Am Shelby Lynne, enabling her own identity to filter through.

A teen phenomenon in the 1980s who was signed the day she arrived in Nashville, Lynne, a small girl with a grand, soulful voice, seemed poised for stardom. However, after three record dealsnone of which yielded significant radio hitsNashvilles Music Row had given up hopes of making Lynne the next Patty Loveless or Tanya Tucker. Not only could she belt out torch songs and country standards on a par with the best, Lynne could also sing in other tones: a drooping twang, a bluesy moan, conversational asides or the confiding delicacy of a jazz singer, wrote John Paries in a New York Times review. A notorious Nashville rebel to boot, Lynne failed to fit into the country music industrys cookie-cutter ideal. I was a miserable son of a bitch, she admitted to Spin magazines Mark Schone, recalling the days when she felt as though her singing career had ended. I was quitting the business; I didnt feel anybody believed in me as somebody who had something real to offer. Nonetheless, Lynne never held any doubts about her unquestionable talent or career choice. I was born a star, she added. Thats not the issue.

Born on October 22, 1968, in Quantico, Virginia, Shelby Lynne Moorer was raised in the South Alabama swamp town of Jackson in the even smaller settlement of Frankville, population 150. Lynne discovered her love for music and performing at the tender age of four, when her father, a high school English teacher, lifted the youngster onto a table at Shakeys Pizza in Mobile and she sang You Are My Sunshine for all the other patrons. Ive always been serious about my music, since I picked up the guitar when I was 8 and taught myself to play, Lynne told Longino. Anything I do musically is natural, and I sing it the way I feel at the time. Each song usually takes me somewhere, and I go.

For The Record

Born Shelby Lynne Moorer on October 22, 1968, in Quantico, VA; daughter of a high school English teacher and a legal secretary; married and divorced.

Started singing at age four and playing guitar at age eight; recorded at the age of 15, with her mother and sister Allison Moorer, a cover of the Four Knights song Couldnt Stay Away From You; Lynnes father, in front of his two teenage daughters, shot his wife to death and then killed himself, 1986; moved to Nashville at the age of 18; appeared on TNNs Nashville Now, 1987; released three albums for Epic Records, 1989-91; released Western swing album Temptation, 1993; released her most celebrated album, I Am Shelby Lynne, on Island Records, 2000.

Addresses: Record company Island Records, 825 8th Ave., 24th FI., New York City, NY 10019, (212) 333-8000.

Found Comfort in Her Music

A self-described tomboy and outcast at school who, by the age of ten preferred listening to old Elvis Presley records, singing, and playing guitar over making friends and studying, Lynne found comfort from an unhappy childhood in her music. She grew up on her fathers Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings albums, as well as rock and roll music from the 1950s and 1960s, compliments of her mother, a legal secretary. At home, the young singer also discovered her grandmothers 78s, memorizing songs by Bob Wills, Jimmie Rodgers, and the Mills Brothers.

With her records spinning, Lynne would practice singing, using a hairbrush for a microphone and dreaming of one day becoming a star herself. Her mother, along with sister Allison, would on occasion join in, and when Lynne was 15, the harmonizing trio cut a single, a cover of the Four Knights song Couldnt Stay Away From You. Although the recording made little impact, it did help spark two careers: that of Lynne, and eventually that of her younger sister Allison Moorer, who in 1999 won an Academy Award nomination as co-writer of the song A Soft Place to Fall from the film The Horse Whisperer, and by 2000 had recorded two country albums for MCA Records. Lynnes father also contributed to the project, the flip side of the single being one of his own originals. His songs were kind of that whole Dylanesque, Im-a-travelin-man type of thing, she recalled to Schone. When I look at them, I can see this dude was sharp.

However, Lynnes father, a heavy drinker who abused his wife, didnt live to see whether the record would spark his career. I loved and admired him, Lynne said softly of her father in an interview with Los Angeles Times writer Robert Hilburn. But we just fought all the time. We were too much alike. Daddy had a drinking problem, and I was the only human being on Earth who ever stood up to him. I think he was a brilliant man with no outlet, very frustrated. In 1985, her mother fled with the two girls to nearby Mobile, but her father soon discovered their whereabouts. And in 1986, in front of a 17-year-old Lynne and her sister, he shot his wife to death before taking his own life.

Lynne refused to discuss the details of her parents deaths with the media, but did explain the impact of the tragic event on her life and career. Critics repeatedly made the narrow assumption that her pain caused her talent and artistry to surface, a connection that Lynne always detested. Everyone says, Shes so good [a singer] because this happened or Shes so difficult because, Lynne, known for her own drinking and rebellious nature, forcefully said to Hilburn. Maybe so, but only partially. I was just as damn difficult when I was 7 years old as I was when I was 18. My father always told me to be an individual, and Ive remembered that every day of my life.

Nashville Bound

After the incident, the girls moved in with their grandmother who broadened Lynnes musical interests to include rhythm and blues and jazz singers. However, Lynne wanted to be on her own, and at 18, she married and moved to Nashville. The marriage lasted less than two years, but Lynne had already made important strides with her career. In the wake of a buzz generated by demo tapes as well as a chance appearance in October of 1987 singing on the TNN networks Nashville Now, she found herself recording a duet entitled If I Could Bottle This Up with George Jones and working with Billy Sherrill, one of the most influential producers in country music. The hit-making artists he worked with included, among others, Jones, Tammy Wynette, Charlie Rich, Tanya Tucker, David Houston, Barbara Mandrell, Janie Fricke, and Johnny Paycheck.

Isnt she something? Sherrill said to Hilburn, recollecting his days of working with Lynne. I thought she was the best thing I ever heard in my life, country-wise, but I couldnt get across to the people who ran the company how good she was. Shes definitely her own person, but people are wrong when they say shed never listen to reason. What she wouldnt listen to is idiots. Country superstar Willie Nelson, who shared a label, manager, and eventually a stage with the young singer expressed a similar sentiment to Schone. To me, shes as good as Billie Holiday, but I knew she was going to have trouble being commercially successful in Nashville. They dont know what to do with someone that talented.

Thus, Lynnes five Nashville albums for various labels revealed only occasional moments of interest. Signing with Epic Recordsfor whom she recorded three country-pop albumsLynne released the Sherrill-produced Sunrise in 1989. Its a record by a little-bitty, green, eager singer whos desperate to please, she told Uncuts Nigel Williamson, as quoted by Eric Weisbard in the Village Voice. Lynne dismissed her second Epic release, 1990s Tough All Over, as crap commercial country, though it contained traces of rhythm and blues as well. Lynne called her final album for Epic, the tepid Soft Talk released in 1991, my rebellion.

By 1992, Lynne began to chafe at the style of music Epic pushed her to record. I was very headstrong and a little crazy, the singer recalled to Marc Weingarten of the Washington Post. I wanted to have things right for me, but I didnt know what right was. There are good songs in Nashville, but you have to have the patience to find the right tunes. I wish I had known that then. Frustrated with her labels demands, Lynne left Epic: That was when I started taking control of how I wanted to make records. I had at that point decided Im not gonna be able to do this until I do it for me.

Disillusioned with Music Row

Striking out on her own, Lynne remained without a label for two years. During this time, the singer focused on writing songs for the first time. Those originals ended up on her acclaimed 1993 album for the shortlived Morgan Creek label entitled Temptation, an album that sought to recreate the big-band Western swing era and demonstrated Lynnes versatility. After Morgan Creek folded, Lynne moved to Nashvilles most impacting independent label, Magnatone Records, to record 1995s Restless. Here, Lynne mixed country, blue-grass, big band, and blues into an electrifying concoction, but she would later disavow the stab at another mainstream country album.

Tired of Nashville, Lynne put her singing career on hold in 1997 and moved into a rented camp house in Mobile Bay. Soon thereafter, she found hope in Bill Bottrell, whose roots-tinged production on Sheryl Crows 1995 debut Tuesday Night Music Club she greatly admired. Through a former manager, Lynne had sent a demo tape to Betty Bottrell, the producers wife and manager. From the onset, Bottrell encouraged Lynne to drop the pretense of her upbeat songs and face the tragedies in her life through her writing, including what her father had done. I dont know if shed want me saying this, Bottrell ventured to Schone, but I kind of forced her to do that, and we spent months on it. The song [about the death of Lynnes parents] is called The Sky Is Purple, and its not on the album. But thats sort of how she learned to do confessional songwriting.

A creative breakthrough, the painful song helped the developing songwriter to further explore her own feelings about ruined relationships and self-doubt. Other songs that explored the darker side included Why Cant You Be?, a tune she scribbled while upset and drinking on a plane, as well as Life Is Bad, a song full of images of blood, tombs, and sinking ships that she wrote in ten minutes one morning. Lynne also returned to some of her musical roots, aside from country, as well, spending hours re-examining the songs of Springfield, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, and the Band, all of which influenced the music for her personal lyrics.

Won Acclaim and Validation

When Lynne and Bottrell took the album to label executives, I Am Shelby Lynne was met with enthusiasm. We were knocked out, recalled Island Records executive Jim Caparro to Hilburn. We all felt she made a brilliant record. However, not wanting the album to fall through the cracks, Island took time to put together a special marketing plan, which included releasing / Am Shelby Lynne first in England, hoping to attract attention across Europe before bringing it to the United States. The plan worked, and reviews and sales in Englandand later back homewere sensational. When the reviews started coming in from Europe, she finally felt validated, noted Bottrell.

While patiently awaiting the albums release in America, Lynne, in the spring of 1999, moved to Palm Springs, California, well outside the orbit of the major music cities. The sun is out all the time, and nobodys here, she explained to Weingarten, adding, the only way to make a change is to do it radically. Here, Lynne lives in a sleek, retro-modern house modeled on the landmark residences built by legendary Palm Springs architect Albert Frey. Reveling in a solitary lifestyle, Lynne spends most of her time writing songs, reading, cruising the desert highways in a black 1960s Cadillac listening to hip-hop, or hanging out at a Rat Pack-era bar/restaurant called Melvyns.

Selected discography

Sunrise, Epic, 1989.

Tough All Over, Epic, 1990.

Soft Talk, Epic, 1991.

Temptation, Morgan Creek, 1993.

Restless, Magnatone, 1995.

I Am Shelby Lynne, Island, 2000.

Sources

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 9, 1995; April 20, 2000.

Billboard, March 23, 1996.

Fortune, February 21, 2000.

Los Angeles Times, February 13, 2000.

New York Times, April 15, 2000.

People, November 22, 1993; February 26, 1996.

Rolling Stone, September 30, 1993; February 17, 2000.

Spin, March 2000, pp. 109-10.

Village Voice, April 11, 2000.

Washington Post, March 12, 2000; April 14, 2000.

Laura Hightower

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