Album Review

Shelby Lynne - Suit Yourself

Shelby Lynne - Suit Yourself

It's a measure of how debased the vocation of pop singer has become that Shelby Lynne's artfully understated work on Suit Yourself ends up sounding like a mark of integrity. Leave the histrionic, octave-vaulting showboating to Celine and Beyonce and their ilk; Lynne is content to deliver this material in a reserved, emotive manner that serves the modest tone of the entire project. Off-mike studio chatter, false starts, the odd bum note -- in another era, she might be accused of being unambitious (or sloppy); now you'd call it keeping it real. Suit Yourself is being framed as a close collaboration between Lynne (who plays guitar throughout the album) and the combo she recruited for the sessions: Wallflower Michael Ward, Heartbreaker Benmont Tench, bassist-producer Brian Harrison, pedal steeler Robby Turner, drummer Bryan Owings and, on selected tracks, Tony Joe White, whose "Old Time Sake" and "Rainy Night In Georgia" are covered here. They do a fine job of providing elegant, unfussy (if unremarkable) country-soul support for Lynne's voice and songs. Mostly it's low-key stuff, but they do venture a tasty Hammond-fueled jam on "You Don't Have A Heart". The "Johnny Met June" tribute is doubtlessly heartfelt and well-intentioned (Lynne plays Cash's mom in the forthcoming biopic Walk The Line) but comes off maudlin, and the porch-pickin' political tune "You're The Man" disappointingly alternates clever verses with tossed-off lines. But when Lynne croons "Where Am I Now", the trepidation is authentic, and the wordplay on the standout "I Won't Die Alone" ("Gamble with your old wife's money/You might need to call her honey") is some of her finest writing -- sad, funny and convincing. At its best, Suit Yourself scores a bruised, disconsolate, 3 a.m. coffee-and-cigarettes vibe.