By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
Shelby Lynne has a whole bunch of reasons why she's stoked to be putting out her new album, Tears, Lies, and Alibis, through her own Everso Records after a lengthy stint in the major-label system. Chief among them, though, may be this: "Now I don't have to deal with some asshole who's scared to put half a titty on an album cover." (Just to clarify, the cover of Alibis does not depict half—or indeed any portion of—a titty. But I Am Shelby Lynne, her 1999 breakthrough, did.)
"This is my baby—it's mine," the singer continues, on the phone from her home near Palm Springs. "I mean, I could pull some Erykah Badu shit and go half-naked in the street, and I don't have to ask a fucking soul, 'cause it's my money. I'm not sitting here waiting on the Big, Fat 'No' from the record company."
Given the temperature of Lynne's rhetoric here, you might wonder if Alibis departs drastically from the rootsy country-soul vibe she's been working over the past decade or so. Maybe she made a funked-up electro-cumbia disc, and the suits at Lost Highway (which released her last album, 2008's gorgeous Dusty Springfield homage Just a Little Lovin') balked and sent her packing.
No dice: In new tunes like "Rains Came," "Like a Fool," and "Loser Dreamer," Lynne sticks to what she knows, layering her delicately husky vocals over handsome strum-and-shuffle arrangements. Alibis is for sure a looser, more laidback affair than the precisely calibrated Lovin', and it doesn't contain anything as in-your-face as "Your Lies," I Am's string-soaked opener, or "Killin' Kind," a highlight from the surprisingly awesome Bridget Jones's Diary soundtrack. But anyone who loved 2003's Identity Crisis or 2005's Suit Yourself (both of which were released by Capitol) will warm to this one.
So why pull an OK Go? Lynne says Lost Highway insisted she work with a name-brand record-maker, despite her desire to oversee her own sessions. "They don't want you to be in control of anything," she says of the majors, "and they certainly don't want you to produce yourself—unless you're a man." She has collaborated with plenty of A-listers in her time, from Bill Bottrell to Glen Ballard to Phil Ramone, but she's no longer interested in pursuing the Big Studio Project: "I'm into this whole thing of letting the song do the work," she says. "I just wanna make records that feel good no matter what time of day it is, no matter what you're smoking or drinking, no matter who you're with."
"There's something very refreshing about working with Shelby," says Brian Harrison, who's taken part in several of Lynne's albums and served as her engineer on Alibis. "In this age of time and pitch correction, where you can really tweak something to death, she's not interested in making a Polly Perfect record. At the same time, she knows a millisecond after she's done something whether she likes it or not. There wasn't a lot of pussyfooting around."
Lynne is similarly low-key about her current U.S. tour, traveling with only a guitarist and a bassist. "I never know what the set lists look like ahead of time," she says. "The boys can't hardly stand it, but planning is really hard for me. You just gotta go by what the audience is every night, you know?" (One guarantee: She won't be reaching back to her pre–I Am records, since those weren't her songs.) "The way I look at it is: If you think about it too much, it stops being any fun."
Shelby Lynne plays the New York Society for Ethical Culture May 10