At the heart of the astonishing I Am Shelby Lynne lies, in the words of one song, "an Alabama frame of mind." The homeland of Shelby Lynne's heart is a ravaged place. Lynne was only 17 when she saw her father shoot her mother to death and then kill himself. In the aftermath, she took care of her sister, gifted singer/songwriter Allison Moorer, then married, divorced and left Alabama for Country Music U.S.A. -- all by the time she was 19. A moderately successful career in country music followed, but Lynne was never satisfied and has left Nashville, likely for good.On I Am Shelby Lynne, the 31-year-old singer/songwriter returns to her tortured but beatific Southern roots through the music of Aretha Franklin and Al Green, then frees herself of all tragic gravity by way of the bold soul symphonies of Curtis Mayfield and Phil Spector. Lynne's embrace of soul music has engendered comparisons to Dusty Springfield, even though Lynne is far more blues-based as a singer and even though Springfield wasn't really a songwriter. Lynne, like Van Morrison or Charlie Rich, has realized the artist within her by crossing the color line, abandoning herself not only to the sounds and stylings of black music but to its greatest musical and spiritual ambitions. For Lynne, soul isn't just a groove: It's a personal Pentecost, the only imaginative equivalent for the heaven and hell of life -- the simple memory of a simple kiss, the loneliness that never fades, the midnight confessions, the lies that won't leave any of us alone, the "mad revelation" and the "mystical review."
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