Shelby Lynne is alone again, naturally.
After years of wrangling with record company executives and a Nashville network of good ol' boys, the soulful singer-songwriter with the smooth pipes and bricklayer mentality is a solo artist in every sense of the word.
The undefinable Lynne, who seemingly never backs down from a confrontation -- consequences be damned -- after more than 20 years in the business, has released the first record on her newly created label, Everso Records.
Tears, Lies, and Alibis, available April 20, is Lynne's return to painfully truthful, tell-it-like-it-is storytelling after 2008's Just A Little Lovin', her luminously "inspired" tribute to Dusty Springfield.
Lynne, who over the years has bounced to numerous labels, including Epic, Morgan Creek, Capitol and Island, has finally decided to put on a one-woman show. With Everso, she is the president and CEO, essentially hiring herself to produce, write all the songs, sing and play acoustic and electric guitars on Tears, Lies, and Alibis.
"My plan for Everso is simple," Lynne said in an e-mail, responding to several questions. "I want a place where I can freely and artistically express myself without any comment or opinion from a corporate record company."
So this Woman of Independent Means doesn't have to take no for an answer. Although she admits, "Rock 'n' roll and acting are two different animals," Lynne was intrigued enough to stray, making the leap to film as the mother of Joaquin Phoenix's Johnny Cash in 2005's Walk the Line, then television in a Lifetime episode of Army Wives last year.
Hoping to "do it again if the right thing comes along," Lynne has temporarily squashed the acting bug and is back in the music business where she belongs. On her own terms, though, after another label dispute.
While still under contract to Lost Highway, which released Just A Little Lovin' in January 2008, Lynne began writing Tears, Lies, and Alibis, then started recording in early 2009. "It took me a while to get back into writing," Lynne explained. "But luckily it came. The hard part is knowing when to begin again without forcing it. The inspiration comes when it is ready."
Her wish to produce again -- which she had done on 2003's Identity Crisis and 2005's Suit Yourself (both with Capitol) -- wasn't fully embraced. "They didn't quite trust me to do it myself," Lynne stated in a press release outlining how the decision to break free was made.
Still, she went through the process of first bringing back Brian "Brain" Harrison, her Suit Yourself engineer and bass player who has been part of Lynne's touring band. Recording in her home studio in Rancho Mirage, Calif., Lynne added friends Val McCallum (guitars), Ben Peeler (banjo, mandolin, Weissenborn steel guitar) and John Jackson (guitars, dobro and harmonica).
Returning to Nashville, where her career as a country singer started in her late teens, Lynne found southern comfort in members of the famed Swampers of Muscle Shoals, including David Hood (bass), father of the Drive-By Truckers' Patterson Hood, and Spooner Oldham (Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer), who has recorded and performed with Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Linda Ronstadt, among many others. She completed the lineup with three drummers (Bryan Owings, Rick Reed, Kenny Malone), a piano man (Mark Jordan) and Dave Jacques, whom she calls "one of the best upright bass players in Nashville."
After playing the record for Lost Highway executives in Nashville, Lynne said, they agreed to part ways after she refused to hire a "name" producer. The payoff might be considerable if it's anything like the bold career move she made by leaving Nashville behind to win a Grammy as Best New Artist in 2001 ("Thirteen years and six albums to get here," she sarcastically asserted) for her better-late-than-never breakthrough, I Am Shelby Lynne.
Tears, Lies, and Alibis might signal another "starting over" phase for Lynne, now 41. Playing by her rules, the uncompromising result is a brutally straightforward return to normalcy, with southern accents, country karma and a decidedly human touch.
The sophisticated material made famous by Springfield, the late British chanteuse known for her suave style and amazing grace, is back in the closet.
Providing a jazzy interpretation that wasn't a perfect fit for her rebel-yell persona, Lynne still successfully ventured into uncharted territory by taking the Springfield trip. But her confidence and strength as a performer didn't match Dusty's notorious discomfort zone. "I've never been able to be too vulnerable," Lynne told No Depression magazine in a 2008 cover story. "I guess maybe we're opposites as far as that's concerned because I really don't need anybody. I'm trying to learn from her, though."
She also learned a thing or two from prolific producer Phil Ramone, who has picked up 14 Grammys in a wide-ranging career that includes collaborations with everyone from Bacharach and Bono to Aretha Franklin, Madonna, Springfield ... and now Lynne.
"He is a great ship captain and a wonderful man," Lynne said of Ramone, who credits him for teaching her "patience" in the studio.
Lynne used that patience to spend a year working on this latest release "and made a lot of decisions and changes during this period," she said. As songwriting subjects, heartbreak, disappointment and resentment go down well with a double shot of "Old #7," the Jack Daniel's whiskey Lynne references near the end of the 10-song album.
The hard feelings are a constant theme from a tough-minded tomboy whose direct message is identifiable because it's so real. Lynne claims that all the songs on the album are personal "because I write what I know."
In the presence of Lynne, who's blessed with a throaty alto, tunes about feeling bad never sounded so good. On the hauntingly beautiful "Loser Dreamer," she warbles, "If love is what you're after then you're looking at disaster." And on "Alibi," the woman scorned scolds her cheating heartbreaker: "My nights are not the only, lonely time / Morning's just me and the birds."
If there's a budding romance (or a moment of levity) in her life, she reveals a certain affection for the "rolling home made out of silver" that she compares to "a Van Gogh or an old Picasso" in the quirky "Something To Be Said (About Airstreams)."
Even stormy weather can cheer up Lynne, whose "Rains Came" opens the album in a surprisingly chipper fashion. After living in the desert climate around Palm Springs for 10 years, Lynne looks back fondly on the torrential rains of her Alabama youth, noting in her lyrics "the dark side of me seems to like how it feels when it's pouring."
That's one of many things she likely has in common with her only sibling. The petite Lynne is the Little Big Sister of Allison Moorer, whose lovely "Like the Rain" appeared on her most recent album, Crows, which was released in February.
Sure, everyone likes to talk about the weather, but was it more than mere coincidence that they found a similar source of inspiration at around the same time?
"When I heard Sissy's record (which I love), I was so happy to hear her rain song," stated Lynne, who became an aunt when Moorer, the wife of folk-rock icon Steve Earle, gave birth to John Henry Earle on April 5 in New York. "I don't know. Maybe somewhere we are connecting to what we love about the rain and we wrote about it. We never compare nor do we talk about each other's writing process. We are always surprised to hear each other's records because we don't discuss while making them. But it's always a nice surprise."
While Moorer utilizes her basic maternal instincts, Lynne becomes a Den Mother to a touring band that hits the road beginning April 22 at the Roxy in Los Angeles. "The boys and I love to play LIVE," she writes.
For the moment anyway, there are no plans to add to her Everso humble roster. "As we know, when signing other artists it takes time, belief and money," she said. "So I'll wait until the time is right to take on any other talent."
Welcome to Shelby Lynne's brave new world, where this Natural Woman is willing to fight her own battles, single-handedly if necessary.
• Publicity photo by Randee St. Nicholas.
• Shelby Lynne performs "Alibi" live at the 2010 VEVO SXSW Playlist Party: