Shelby Lynne, Revelation Road

Britt Robson

By Britt Robson

on 10.18.11 in Reviews

On this taut, intimate collection, Lynne whittles her songs down to their essence, with spare arrangements in which she plays all the instruments in a home studio, and straightforward language that brooks few compromises. The lead title track sets the tone, pinning down religion with withering sarcasm. (Two examples: “Nothin’ left to do but pray/ with your head in the sand,” and “One Hail Mary does the trick/ to give up all your sins.”) Lynne follows that up with “I’ll Hold Your Head,” at once the album’s catchiest and most poignant tune, as a young Shelby provides comfort to her younger sis while her parents brawl — a song inevitably bound up with the real-life incident of Shelby’s father murdering her mother and then committing suicide before her eyes.

Stripped down and straightforward, her artistry is growing and deepening

Obviously, this isn’t an upbeat album. “The Thief” and “Toss It All Away” are bleak, desperate narratives of busted relationships, and Lynne herself seems to get exasperated by her constant dolor on “Woebegone,” which starts with a country holler and continues with some dirty electric guitar. By contrast, “Lead My Love” has a slight doo-wop vocal feel; its evocation of a more innocent era is furthered by Lynne, who becomes a willful naïf, singing “I can’t wait to be a fool for you” while strumming brittle, ukulele-like chords. “I Don’t Need A Reason To Cry” would at first blush seem to fit in the “woe is me” mode, but Lynne’s production, especially the texture of her guitars, and the song’s classic drinking-ballad structure provide it with a special charm. Another musical highlight is “Even Angels,” delivered like an R&B hybrid of Smokey Robinson and Dusty Springfield.

Aside from “I’ll Hold Your Head,” perhaps the most personal song here is “I Want To Go Back,” in which Lynne essentially cops to being addicted to melodrama, singing, “I want to go back so I can run away again,” and noting that all her sweet chords and melodies “just add to the collection of my broken dreams.” Of course she isn’t going to learn her lesson — the last song here is entitled “I Won’t Leave You” — but Revelation Road offers convincing proof that her artistry is growing and deepening all the same.