Album Review

Hard to Pin Down

Shelby Lynne - I Can't Imagine

It should come as no surprise to anyone who's followed Shelby Lynne's post-Nashville country career that one of her solo albums was entitled Identity Crisis. By turns creatively outstanding and frustratingly ordinary, most artists would kill for two such superlative albums in their catalogue as I Am Shelby Lynne (1999) and Dusty tribute Just A Little Lovin’ (2008), but the fare in and around those have struggled for consistency.

A key reason for this is the wide sweep of styles Lynne incorporates. She flits between pop ingenue, singer-songwriter, roots, and country, sometimes on one album. I admire this breadth but it limits her in terms of depth and flow. Lynne's butterfly is hard to pin down; Popmatters wrote two reviews of the album. One constant is Lynne's lived-in, once-in-a-generation voice, which gets better with time.

I Can't Imagine continues where 2011s Revelation Road left off. We're firmly in Southern roots territory with "Paper Van Gogh," "Better" and "Son of a Gun," but whilst there’s no bad songs on the album, and "Sold the Devil (Sunshine)" and "Down Here" sit comfortably alongside the best she's written, the rest remains tantalisingly short of her best.

This review was previously posted on Poor Little Fish on October 1, 2015.


We can't be listening to the same album. I think it's brilliant from start to finish. The title song is achingly gorgeous.

Hi Carl,

Don't get me wrong, I think the album is just fine, but Lynne has spoilt us in the past - as a result, my expectations are always heightened when she releases new material. If that seems a little unfair, well, she set the bar, and viewed in context across her albums, it's another with flashes of brilliance but a lack of consistency.



Your review would be more persuasive if you cited why this falls short. There's really one one sentence -- or a portion of one sentence -- that actually evaluates the album, and then only in vague terms.

 Wasn't this album relesaed months ago?


Hi Jim,

I don't think enough of the songs stack up. I mention 5 in the review and state that of those, 2 are up there with her best. That's 5o% at best that are worthy of her ridiculous talent, and looking back at her recent releases, I find a similar situation arises (think Identity Crisis, Suit Yourself, Tears, Lies And Alibi's). When you consider that she's such a brilliant vocalist, interpreter and writer, there's something frustrating in only wanting to go back and listen to half an album. I'm a big fan and have all those albums, but I think I've been spoilt by the brilliance of  'I Am..' and 'Just A Little Lovin'. Interestingly, I don't appear to be on my own here; I mentioned the ying and yang reviews on PopMatters, and here's another from Slant that has a similar approach.

It was released in May. I waited for the vinyl and it took a while to reach the UK. 

Kind regards,



 I guess I'm old school criticism.

When you say a song doesn't measure up, I want to know why. Given the ease of posting video and sound, it's also worth pasting in a clip that backs your opinion.

  Otherwise, you're just asking me to take your word for it. I don't know your tastes and how they align with mine so I've no reason to do that.

I also don't expect or care to (though I did) have to click through to someone else's review to understand the reasoning for your review.

When I read a review that just gives a thumbs up or down, it makes me wonder how deeply the reviewer listened. You may have spent weeks with the disc and listened dozens of times, but you haven't shown that in the review. But then I'm a crusty old journalist.

Hi again,

There are two contrasting styles and a lifetime of experience at play here Jim. I could fit my journalistic CV into the endnotes of your very impressive resume, so I don't know whether to be flattered or alarmed that you've chosen to respond twice to a review that didn't impress you. I have no issue with old school criticism or crusty old journalists though; there's room for everyone.