Just A Little Lovin'
the way, are you a fan of Shelby Lynne? She has an album coming out that's
a tribute to Dusty Springfield - she does very stripped-down, moody arrangements
of Dusty songs..."
sentence quoted above appeared in a message from the USA that I received
at the very end of 2007, expressing warm feelings about the fact that -
five years later - Clouds And Clocks was still standing. Well, an album
"very stripped down, moody arrangements" of songs originally sung
by, and so of course reminding one of, Dusty Springfield, sounded like an
enticing proposition to me. And when sung by Shelby Lynne... "Hold your
horses!", I said to myself, "Who the heck IS Shelby Lynne?".
Springfield I knew. As somebody who was an active radio listener in the
mid-60s, I had to be familiar with her, and with the songs she sang. I
clearly remember the hits: I Only Want To Be With You, You Don't Have To
Say You Love Me (the English version of an Italian song I really hated),
Anyone Who Had A Heart, The Look Of Love, and so on. But I'd lie if I said
that it was love at first hearing, for reasons best illustrated by a photo
that appears in a book about The Rolling Stones titled The Rolling Stones
- An Illustrated Record, by Roy Carr. The picture (it's on page 34) shows
the Winners of the New Musical Express 1965 Poll: here are Mick and Brian
of The Stones, Tom Jones, Cilla Black, Dusty Springfield, Kathy McGowan,
plus assorted others. Now, while Mick and Brian appear at their hip best,
with Tom Jones looking like a dubious, home-made version of hip, both Cilla
Black and Dusty Springfield look exactly like one mother's girlfriends,
with impossible hairdos, fake eyelashes, and all. In a word, not hip! And
this is exactly how their songs sounded to me at the time.
needs a certain degree of maturity, I guess, in order to be able to perceive
quality in a vocal performance. But though Dusty Springfield was "a
credible soul singer", as a friend of mine recently told me upon hearing
of this new CD of covers, that was the era when self-penned songs were
regarded as being proof of authenticity; and besides, singers who had to
rely on outside material were obviously at the mercy of what was available
- not to mention their producers and arrangers. Plus, I didn't really like
Motown, either, and preferred The Four Tops to the Temptations anyway.
I was more of a Stax/Volt fan. And then there was Aretha, of course.
it's not really surprising that I responded quite positively to Son Of
A Preacher Man, a new song I heard on the radio later in the 60s. Here
the framework surrounding Dusty Springfield's vocals ('cause it was her
singing) had totally changed, with those massive string sections, tympani,
and heavy brass being replaced by a funkier, leaner sound. Of course, one
can't really discount the new production team, the songs themselves, and
those brilliant vocal performances. So Dusty In Memphis is it - a certified
classic. (I was not surprised, a few years ago, when I heard the album
being played while we waited for Elvis Costello to take the stage, Costello
having penned the liner notes to the 2002 edition of Dusty In Memphis.)
Dusty In Memphis (definitely not a heavy seller at the time of its original
release, the album has grown in stature with the passing of time), I heard
just a few more Dusty Springfield singles, and then no more, till the late
80s, when the Pet Shop Boys made her name current, and hip, again. This
was just before her premature death in 1999.
we could have a long chat about Rock and Pop and what it all means. I have
to confess that for a long time I've been deeply puzzled by the survival
- hey, make that thriving - of Pop, a genre that seemed to be on its last
legs a long time ago. I didn't get Abba, either - and I was quite surprised,
to say the least, when I read the Musician cover story where both Robert
Fripp and Joe Strummer (with the former interviewing the latter, by the
way) had expressed deep admiration for the Swedish quartet. Nor I'm from
"so-bad-it's-good" school. Also, I was quite puzzled by the emergence
of whole currents of music that got their inspiration not from the formal
qualities of good 60s music (little things like melody and harmony) but from
its more choreographic elements - bongos, cheesy organs, martini cocktails,
and the like.
was quite sure I had already heard the name Shelby Lynne - but where? Almost
by chance, I remembered her as the winner of a Grammy® for Best New Artist
in 2001 for an album titled I Am Shelby Lynne (though, in fact, it was
her sixth album!). I had covered the 2001 edition of the Grammys®, Steely
Dan having won four for their back-in-the-business album, Two Against Nature.
I vaguely remember reading about this singer Shelby Lynne going into a
tantrum, or something. But when I heard she was a "country singer",
I immediately closed my file on her (those hours spent listening to the
American Country Music Countdown being among the most depressing moments
of my life - talk about Pop!).
loss. Shelby Lynne appears to have made some interesting music - and a
few bizarre choices, too. Biography and info are easily available on the
Net, of course. So, upon getting the aforementioned message from the USA,
I went out and bought (the only available album in my town - pop. about
380.000+) Identity Crisis, her self-produced, stripped down release from
2003. Where she sings very well, plays some good guitar parts (all the
guitar parts, in fact: acoustic, electric, slide...), pens some nice songs
running the gamut from country to blues to gospel to... Easy Listening
Song With Orchestra From The 60s?, all with a vocal style that's effective
but restrained, never too florid, nor over-emoting. (I understand that
the first album to get is maybe that I Am Shelby Lynne Grammy® Winner -
later for that.)
suppose there'll be a few guys out there who'll be puzzled by the fact
that I went out and bought an album just like this - rich guy, eh? Well,
I've found out the secret to a good use of one's time to be to trust people
whose opinion we respect. Sure, taste may vary. But random suggestions
from an army of complete unknowns coupled with free downloading of whatever
material we happen to hear about can only lead to our hard drives being
full of files we'll never have the time to really listen to. And we don't
want that, right?)
like Capitol (Shelby Lynne's record company) didn't know what to make of
her anymore, so this idea of recording an album of songs "inspired
by Dusty Springfield" (her choice, by the way) was considered. The
album had just been completed when Capitol Records was no more. Enter "boutique
label" Lost Highway.
album was produced by Phil Ramone and recorded and mixed by Al Schmitt.
There are no real liner notes, but information freely available on the
Web, which I hope can be trusted, indicate the album as having been recorded
at the famous Studio A at Capitol, on 2" analogue tape, live with
no overdubs, Lynne's vocals going through an old RCA 44 microphone.
album opens with Just A Little Lovin' (also the first track on Dusty In
Memphis). Ten tracks in all, one penned by Shelby Lynne. One bonus track.
The chosen approach is quite stripped down: no strings, no orchestras,
no brass. Just four musicians: Rob Mathes on acoustic piano and (what to
me sounds like a real) Fender Rhodes™ electric piano; Dean Parks on electric
and acoustic guitar; Kevin Axt on electric and double bass; and Gregg Field
on drums, with Curt Bisquera playing on two tracks. What one immediately
notices is the enormous amount of "empty" space, those long silences,
the approach chosen at the production stage obviously being not that of
"replicating" the conventions of the old days, but of getting to
the essence of the songs, i.e., the vocals.
have to confess that I listened to the instrumental introduction to the
first song on the album, Just A Little Lovin', quite a lot of times, those
48" being really something else. A cymbal is hit, then a rimshot,
a closed hi-hat, then the electric piano, the electric guitar, the electric
bass. The timbral beauty, the economy of means, all reminded me of a Steely
Dan album, for instance, the intro to Babylon Sisters. Here the fact of
the hi-hat being hit in the half-open position implies high drama. There's
also a very dramatic pause before the chorus, in the silence from 1'18" to
1'26". A slow, careful vocal by Shelby Lynne, this performance being
quite different in approach from Dusty Springfield's.
Who Had A Heart has an acoustic piano, drums played with brushes, a snare
that sounds really enormous, electric guitar, electric bass. The vocal
narrative sits centre stage, very sad-sounding. Vocally, this is absolutely
one of the album's peaks. One very fine held note at 2'47", followed
by the electric guitar's short echoes, and the long decay of the piano.
stated above, I have no good memories of You Don't Have To Say You Love
Me (by the way, here they've misspelled the names of the Italian writers).
This version, I have to admit, is quite good, not at all melodramatic (a
real danger in cases like this).
Only Want To Be With You is slowed down considerably, getting a nice bossa-like
treatment. Nice electric piano and acoustic guitar. While the original
version sounded full of youthful enthusiasm, here the attitude is appropriately
"adult". To my ears, the bridge has more than a touch of Annie
Lennox - whose old group, The Tourists, let's not forget, had a big U.K.
hit in 1979 with a remake of this song.
fact that after all those years, and so many different cover versions,
I could still listen to this performance of The Look Of Love speaks volumes
about its quality. Still...
a good close to Side One. Yep, this album has also a vinyl release. Which
I've never seen, but I bet this is the last track to Side One.
Side One was very good, Side Two is even better. We have a funky opening
with elastic/relaxed drums by Curt Bisquera, electric piano, electric bass,
a nasty-sounding electric guitar played bottleneck, relaxed vocals. It's
Breakfast In Bed.
again, this time on an acoustic, and Shelby Lynne also on guitar, in Willie
And Laura Mae Jones, a real country-blues with a lot of verve and a funky
Newman's I Don't Want To Hear It Anymore sports a graceful mix of country-blues
and an interesting chord progression. Nice piano, very nice vocals.
album gets quieter - also more intense - with the last two tracks. Pretend
is a Shelby Lynne original, quite open-ended when it comes to its meaning,
I think (also, I couldn't get all the lyrics). Just an acoustic guitar,
double bass, and vocals. It fits perfectly.
old Young Rascals hit How Can I Be Sure (which I've never heard in its
original version) gets drastically rearranged from the dense orchestration
of the Dusty Springfield version: here it's just an acoustic guitar and
vocals, with no tempo change from one section to another. Some wonderful "held" notes.
It's a real stunner, the perfect album closer.
And Hopin' is the bonus track, sounding less perfect, more "funky",
than the rest of the album. But it's a nice addition anyway.
© Beppe Colli 2008
CloudsandClocks.net | Feb. 10, 2008