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Music CD Spotlight

Southern soul - A new recording from one of the most soulful singers on the planet

Shelby Lynne's new album pointedly begins with about 30 seconds of Lynne casually running through a number with her band. Even before the first song, Lynne makes it clear that this is unadorned, front-porch music, organically conceived and spontaneously performed. Not for nothing did she name this record Suit Yourself, because suiting herself is exactly what Lynne had in mind.

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The Alabama-born Lynne already made this point with thestellar 2003 release Identity Crisis, but hardly anyone noticed. So Suit Yourself is being hyped as a karmic antidote to her overblown, Glen Ballard-produced 2001 airplay move, Love, Shelby, when in fact it qualifies as conclusive proof that she's found her sound.

That sound is a modern application of the lessons of late-'60s Southern pop, which perfectly split the difference between soul and country. It can be heard in the music made by Tony Joe White (whose "Rainy Night In Georgia" concludes this album under the title "Track 12"), Dobie Gray, Dan Penn, Bobbie Gentry, and Dusty In Memphis-era Dusty Springfield. In Lynne's hands, it means acoustic guitars, bluesy dobros, liquid leaps of pedal steel, and jazzy, aching suggestions of harmonica.

Suit Yourself   ◊   Shelby Lynne   ◊   (Capitol)

One of the most soulful singers on the planet, Lynne is also an earnest but inconsistent songwriter. Suit Yourself never makes a false production move, but Lynne's weakness for poetic overreach wrecks "You're the Man" (an apparent slap at George W. Bush that never comes close to hitting its mark) and the grating "You and We." On the other hand, the loose R&B balladry of "I Cry Everyday" and the driving crotchet pop of "Go For Hit" (with wondrously luxurious harmonies) prove that Lynne is completely in command of her own personal groove. Song for song, this album doesn't match up to Identity Crisis or her breakthrough I Am Shelby Lynne, but it finally erases any nagging suspicions that those high-water marks were flukes.

Gilbert Garcia


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