Back in the 1980s, singer Shelby Lynne was supposed to be Nashville's Next Big Thang -- she even recorded a duet with George Jones -- but the girl from Alabama never quite jibed with Music Row's by-the-numbers approach to music-making. After putting out five critically acclaimed but poorly selling albums, she seemed destined to fade into obscurity.
Then came last year's I Am Shelby Lynne, which recast her as a blue-eyed soul singer, more Dusty Springfield than Patsy Cline. The album earned (mostly) rave reviews, and Lynne, a music veteran at the age of 31, won a Grammy for Best New Artist. Produced by Bill Bottrell (Sheryl Crow), I Am Shelby Lynne was a steamy mixture of funk, soul and rhythm and blues. It was a fresh start from someone who deserved a wider audience, but it was slick and overproduced.
Her followup, Love, Shelby, suffers from the same affliction. This time around, Lynne opted to work with Glen Ballard, best known for producing Alanis Morissette's multi-platinum Jagged Little Pill album. But he's also collaborated with mainstream pop singers like Michael Jackson, Paula Abdul and Barbra Streisand. On Love, Shelby, Ballard's arrangements are just a little too polished; there's not a note out of place. Presumably there are real people playing the instruments, but it's hard to tell.
Lynne's got a great voice, though -- it's an engaging blend of twang and soul -- and it occasionally rises above the too-many layers of guitars and synthesizers. She moves easily from R&B ("Bend") to power pop ("Killin' Kind"), from lounge ("Tarpoleon Napoleon") to hard rock ("Jesus on a Greyhound"). Her one cover song, John Lennon's "Mother," is a standout track. (It's also eerily appropriate: When Lynne was still a teenager, her mother was killed by her father in a murder-suicide.) "Mama don't go/ Daddy come home," she wails repeatedly over Ballard's wall-of-sound production. It's gut-wrenching stuff, but it's not enough to save Love, Shelby. Bottom line: right singer, wrong producer.