Shelby Lynne is not afraid to bare her soul in front of an audience. The lucky folks who were able to attend her Dec. 1 concert at Landmark on Main Street got to experience this firsthand. Lynne was introduced by WFUV DJ John Platt, who explained that this show would follow a different format than most. It would start with a 10-minute documentary, then Lynne would perform, followed by a Q and A session.
The short film was a bit of a mystery. Purportedly about the making of her latest CD, “Revelation Road,” it mainly showed artsy shots of her strumming bits on her guitar, singing a note or two while laying down a track, and, most notably, cursing like a longshoreman when things weren’t going well. With some background narration discussing the recording of the CD, this film might have been more interesting and useful, but without it, the audience was left a bit confused. The 10 minutes would probably have been better spent on an extra song or two because Lynne is a terrific songwriter and performer, as she demonstrated upon taking the stage.
Strikingly attractive and fit, with a shock of blonde hair, Lynne took the stage armed with just a single guitar and an Alabama accent. She’s got quite a vocal range – smooth in the lower registers but able to hit extremely high notes without sounding shrill. She opened her set with the title track of the new CD, “Revelation Road,” a very personal collection of songs – as most of her music is – which actually touches on some of her personal tragedy. Lynne is no stranger to hardship and tragedy. At the age of 17, her father killed her mother and then himself, while she and her younger sister (singer Alison Moorer) were in the house. After graduating from high school, Lynne moved to Nashville to pursue a career in music. Fame was slow to come, and it wasn’t until her sixth CD, “I Am Shelby Lynne,” that she really became noticed. A year later, she won a Grammy for Best New Artist, although she’d been playing music for a decade and a half by then. Now, another decade later, she is touring in support of perhaps her most personally revealing CD of all, and one in which she explores feelings that must have been very difficult to touch on.
Her performance at Landmark was captivating. Her vocals are beautiful, but she is a surprisingly strong and eclectic guitar player as well. She doesn’t rely on plain strumming, as many folk artists do, but used various techniques which kept the songs interesting and different. (Plus she only tuned her guitar once during the show – Thank you Shelby!) Some standouts of the performance included the bluesy “Woebegone,” and the touching “I’ll Hold Your Head” from the new CD, and “Jesus on a Greyhound.” Lynne’s songs are marked with big vocal spans, and unusual chord changes.
Following her performance, Lynne took some questions. However, like the documentary, this could have been better planned. Since there was no one moderating the questions, audience members just shouted them out, leading to a bit of confusion, especially for Lynne, who had to field. All the same, her answers were fascinating, especially her quote “Art has its own schedule” when asked about writing music. She closed by describing singing three-part harmony in the car with her mother and sister as a child, and sang a bit of her childhood songs before leaving an audience who would have been happy to spend another two hours with her.