Sunday, January 27, 2008

Shelby Lynne Covers:
Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton
plus covers from Allison Moorer, Steve Earle, and Cash, too!

Just a few days left to win an autographed copy of Just A Little Lovin', Shelby Lynne's new acoustic country tribute to the songs of Dusty Springfield! To tempt you a little more, today we're featuring a pair of older covers by this perpetually on-the-verge singer-songwriter, plus a matching set by her equally talented sister Allison Moorer.



If Shelby Lynne was pure contemporary country, you'd not find her here on a coverblog devoted to folk music. But though she's made her share of slick pop country albums, since the confessional turn of 1999 recording I Am Shelby Lynne, which garnered her a much-belated Grammy for Best New Artist in 2001, Shelby Lynne no longer considers herself a country music artist in the same vein as Carrie Underwood or Shanaia Twain, and it's not hard to see - or hear - why.

The relationship between country music and folk music is complex, especially since the advent of alt-country. In one way, it's true, for example, that bluegrass is to country as folk and blues are to rock...but it is equally true that bluegrass, folk, and the more traditional forms of country music share more with the modern alt-country movement, and more with each other, than they do with the kind of pop country that makes the crossover to what's left of the mainstream radio spectrum.

It is not necessary to reconcile these parallel truths in order to enjoy Shelby Lynne's wonderful new release Just A Little Lovin'. That's not to say it defies categorization, necessarily; if anything, with a few powerful exceptions, this is both a sweet in-genre tribute to a seminal 60s-era pop-folk artist and a sultry pop record, in the same vein as KD Lang's later work, or the best of Diana Krall, if a little farther South, geographically speaking. But where Lang and Krall slip too easily into softpop torch songs, Lynne's choices on this powerful collection of Dusty Springfield covers span a wider, warmer spectrum, from the piano bar ballad to the smooth bass-and-snare jazz trio to the pulsing, driving alt-country of Lucinda Williams or Michelle Shocked.

It's all good. At its best, in cuts like the dark, bluesy Willie and Laura Mae Jones, or the deep, slow jazz of the title cut, Lynne's delivery bleeds raw at the edges, creating a nuanced, powerful, mature balance between vocal control and roots-ragged empathy. Her ability to truly reinterpret Dusty is both honorably unique and, on an emotional level, uncannily accurate. And the stripped down acoustic instrumentation, heavy on the languid piano and acoustic guitar, supports this sound exceptionally well.

I've been asked not to post tracks from Just A Little Lovin' until Tuesday, the album's official release date; as we come to the end of our contest, I'll able to share a few tracks to tempt you one more time. Happily, however, Shelby Lynne's previous coverwork is diverse enough to speak to both the complicated relationship between folk and country, and the overwhelming power of this Grammy-winning vocalist at her interpretive best. Here's two of my favorites: A truly country Johnny Cash cover, and an absolutely stunning folked-down version of Dolly Parton's The Seeker which hints at her work-to-come.


Interested in hearing for yourself? Hedge your bets: pre-order Just A Little Lovin' directly from the fine folks at Filter, and enter our contest to win an autographed copy!


Today's bonus coversongs continue in a countrified vein, with a unique twist: I was able to find both a companion Cash cover and a companion Dolly Parton cover from Shelby Lynne's sister, the equally wonderful, slightly more alt-country chanteuse Allison Moorer, who is also slated to release a coveralbum in the coming months:


And, just for fun, Allison's husband, country folk rocker Steve Earle, with his own take on a Cash tune...and Johnny Cash himself, with a cover of Earle, for the extra point:

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Saw Allison in Birmingham. Amazing. Got a flyer for a £1 off the album too at Amazon. Just type "amoorer1" at the amazon checkout.

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