Got Attitude, Will Travel (06/09/2000)
Shelby Lynne, I Am Shelby Lynne (Island/Def Jam 2000) - Big-voiced country singer Shelby Lynne cuts loose on I Am Shelby Lynne. Five years in the making, producer Bill Bottrell (who also has produced Sheryl Crow) brings a contemporary sound to the little lady with a burgeoning attitude.
Shelby Lynne grew up in the deep South (she is the older sister of country singer Allison Moorer). Explains Shelby, "I grew up in the country, the rural, hot and sticky South Alabama with 200 people. The closest city was Mobile. I knew nothing but pine trees, land, livestock, my little sister, my parents and music."
Recalls Shelby, "I had never even been in a studio. The next thing I know, I was standing in front of Jones, facing each other on one mike, and he said, 'Is that right?' And I answered, 'Yes, sir, that would be dead on it.' Poor old George. He had his rough times and he can get crazy on you, but he gets his job done. He is ornery as hell, but he gets it done."
Obligatory Life's Cruel note - When Shelby was 17, her father killed her mother, then himself. Soon thereafter, Shelby left for Nashville, but she never left her emotions behind. In describing her new album, Shelby says "Ever song is about my true feelings. Pain. Loneliness. Being cheated. Lost. This record is about my acceptance of me."
Now living in Palm Springs, California, the diminutive Shelby seems determined to conjure a new image as a sexy, hard-drinking hell raiser. A story circulates that she once looked out over an audience and asked, "I'll bet all you guys out there want to fuck me, don'tcha?" (I'd like to hear that tape.)
The core band on I Am Shelby Lynne consists of Shelby on vocals and rhythm guitar and producer Bill Bottrell on guitars, organ, percussion, and pedal steel. Also appearing are the Memphis Strings arranged and conducted by George Del Barrio, and Greg D'Augelli on string bass ("Your Lies"), flute ("Dreamsome"), and bass and keyboards for the concluding, "Black Light Blue."
Shelby's last album was the appropriately titled Restless, released in 1995. Yet her prior release, Temptation (recorded for Morgan Creek Records in 1993) has been drawing the attention, with some even calling it a "swing" record.
"Swing" misses the mark. I dusted off my old copy of Temptation and it's a fine country production, with a nod toward the classic Nashville strings and lush backings of Kitty Wells and Patsy Cline. I'll acknowledge that a couple of songs head over into Bob Wills territory. But in the main, we liked Temptation because it took a classic Nashville sound and made it sound contemporary and fresh.
I Am Shelby Lynne comes at the problem from the other end. On these ten tracks, Lynne heads over toward the Memphis side of the state, with a slice of soul that brings to mind Dusty Springfield, Lucinda Williams and even Lisa Stansfield.
While the album kicks off with the loud, big band style crooner, "Your Lies," its real pleasures lie in such sultry tracks as "Leavin'" and "Gotta Get Back," in which Shelby gets down and dirty around midnight.
I am Shelby Lynne has been a critic's darling in England where they still dig those Delta influences. For my taste, I wish the album were a bit more consistent - I want an album that is tight and in the pocket, like the lovely soul-stirrer, "Leavin'." But don't overlook I Am Shelby Lynne.
Eels, Daisies of the Galaxy (Dreamworks 2000) - Daisies of the Galaxy is the third album from Eels, and the fifth overall from the Man Called E (a silly moniker that Mark Oliver Everett acknowledges as a joke gone too far). The new album doesn't scale the lofty heights of its predecessor, Electro-Shock Blues, yet continues to highlight Everett's skills as a musician and songwriter.
A Virginian transplanted to Los Angeles, Everett recorded two disks under the E imprint before embarking on the melange loosely tied together under Eels. The first version included drummer Butch (who has stuck with Everett) and bassist Tommy Walters (now departed).
The new album was recorded at E's home studio in Los Angeles, with Butch on drums, Grant Lee Phillips (from Grant Lee Buffalo) on bass, and Peter Buck (from R.E.M.) on piano and guitar. The touring band also includes fiddle player Lisa Germano.
E's music is hard to describe, a little Cake, a little Beatles, a little Beck, all for a unique blend, using techno and pop, and grounded by E's splendid songs. In some ways, Daisies of the Galaxy is E's step toward embracing life after tragedy. Electro-Shock Blues followed the suicide of E's sister and the lingering illness and death of his mother.
E summarizes his feelings about the new album as follows: "If 'Electro-Shock Blues' was the phone call in the middle of the night that the world doesn't want to answer, then 'Daisies of the Galaxy' is the hotel-wake-up call that says your lovely breakfast is ready."
E continues: "During the Daisies sessions, I realized we were making two different records. One was loud, dark and scary and full of feedback; the other was more acoustic and positive. I only wanted to put out the latter now - even if it doesn't have any big guitar in it, or a guy screaming, 'Hey, Yeah!'"
E adds that "I Like Birds" "is a tribute to my mother. She was really into birds. After she died, I brought back her feeder and some books about birds. I put the feeder up in my yard and I got them a bird bath, too." E also continues with his own version of psychedelia on "Selective Memory," which he says is a "sad song because none of the things in it really happened. But he has to tell himself that he simply can't recall the events."
Daisies of the Galaxy has a subdued feeling to it. The recording sessions were interrupted when E returned to his native Virginia to clean out his late parent's house (see the song "Estate Sale"), where he found a 1950's era children's book that provided the artwork for the album.
In an odd (and to me, constantly frustrating) device, E includes the album's best track and first single, "Mr. E's Beautiful Blues," as a hidden track. I can never understand why artists fall for these silly games; just look at Todd Snider, who placed his hit single, "Talking Seattle Grunge Blues," as a hidden track on his album, and whose career has never recovered.
Admits E, "I'm not really a popular guy at the record company these days. They're very supportive and understanding, but they can't keep up with my mood swings." E adds that, "'Mr. E's Beautiful Blues' was recorded after I finished this record. To me, it's not part of the record - it's like a bonus track."
Small complaints aside, Daisies of the Galaxy is an entertaining slice from one of the better musicians and songwriters in the business today.
- Randy Krbechek © 2000
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