Thank you, Barry Manilow!
by Whit Hill
Mary Isabel Catherine Bernadette O'Brien was, of course, Dusty Springfield. Shelby Lynne is, of course, Shelby Lynne. The intersection of these two singers-one a phenomenally popular beehive-haired, blue-eyed-soul chanteuse of the British Invasion, the other an in-your-face, risk-taking, frail but steely darling of America's alt-country world-can be heard in Lynne's fascinating new album of Springfield covers, Just a Little Lovin'.
Lynne's start-and-stop career, twenty years peppered with highs and lows, bad timing, and bum luck, would try the patience of a saint. Lynne's no saint-who is?-and her frustration, coupled with her fine, daring voice and fearless approach to performing, have yielded some great songs and a faithful cadre of fans who understand and appreciate her, and urge her on. Of course the bright lining of a more or less independent career is the ability to just go off and do what you want-like a Dusty Springfield record. (The idea actually came from Barry Manilow, who emailed her the suggestion.) "It's usually career suicide to do an album of covers," Lynne told the New York Times Magazine last year, "but I thought, 'Why not?'"
Finding the right producer-one with deep knowledge of the source material, but a willingness to allow Lynne to find her own way with it-was critical. She found that producer in Phil Ramone, known for his work on albums by Paul Simon and Billy Joel. The result is a collection of songs that take the listener back to the thrill of hearing them so long ago, but also bring that listener someplace new and different. It's a heady experience. In many of the cuts, Springfield's sparkly late-1960s glamour has been tamed and simplified. Songs like "I Only Want to Be with You," "Breakfast in Bed," and "The Look of Love" now simmer with a stripped-down, almost plaintive heat. Lynne lays the words out to dry in the sun. These songs have never been so beautiful.
"Look, I don't want to be Dusty," Lynne told the Times. "I just want to remind people about her and about these great songs. I wanted to make the kind of album that she might have made today."
Shelby Lynne comes to the Ark (see Nightspots) on Monday, December 1.
[Originally published in December, 2008.]