Given the wonderfully mercurial, fiercely independent persona Shelby Lynne
has displayed throughout her career (one that has inspired fans and infuriated record company executives) her first self-produced, self-released effort might have been fraught with egocentric excess. Many artists have fallen into that trap. But they don't have her backbone and keen self-critical eyes and ears: Tears, Lies and Alibis
, issued on her own Everso imprint, is anything but.
Produced with exquisite balance, these ten self-penned songs reflect what Lynne’
s learned about the studio process in her 20 years as a recording artist. Lynne
cut the basic tracks at home in Rancho Mirage with Brian Harrison
and her own band; she finished them in Nashville with help from some studio guests including Muscle Shoals legends Spooner Oldham
and David Hood
. Production is only one part of the equation, however, songs are quite another, and Lynne
hadn’t written many since 2005’s Suit Yourself
. She more than compensates here. The set opens with the jaunty “Rains Came.” Acoustic guitars play a jacked-up rhythm, painted by an organ and kissed by electric guitars; Rickenbackers fill the instrumental interlude. It’s a happy song about being sad, and woodwinds underscore that acceptance at the tail-end. Seamlessly, she shifts into the breezy adult pop of "Why Didn't You Call Me?" as a horn section, jazzy acoustic guitars, and her own multi-tracked backing vocals blend effortlessly. It’s another sad tune that transcends its lyrics; a beautiful arrangement and midtempo groove make it shimmer. But there are tough ballads -- the stark, nakedly vulnerable “Like a Fool” and the shamelessly broken-hearted confessional country waltz “Old # 7” -- that showcase Lynne
’s lyrical gifts as pure Americana poetry. “Alibi” is another ballad whose lovely harmonic construction belies the hurt in the protagonist's voice as she confronts a lover’s betrayal. Her voice is unforced, relaxed, and matter-of-factly articulate in each of these songs. While there isn’t a loser in the bunch, “Something to Be Said About Airstreams,” a paean to restlessness and freedom, is a standout. Its slow tempo and lilting arrangement momentarily distract from the singer's need to escape the heartbreak hidden just beneath the lyric. “Loser Dreamer,” an atmospheric homage to those whose self-acceptance destines them for disappointment, is memorable, as is the album's jazz-inflected closer, "Home Sweet Home." Tears, Lies and Alibis
feels like a destination for Lynne
; one she’s sought her entire career, to balance her artistic instincts and ambitions with her talents as a songwriter, producer, and singer. Summoning the bravery to go it on your own is rare -- especially for an established artist. To actually pull it off it honestly, with taste and balance to boot, is rarer still.