If 2011’s self-produced, self-released Revelation Road was Shelby Lynne leveling and exorcising the ghosts of her past, I Can’t Imagine harvests the remaining sweetness of her Southern childhood—the formative years enthralled by indigenous artistic forms and a pace far slower and more sultry. The Alabama singer/songwriter, now living in Palm Springs, Calif., decamped to Louisiana’s Dockside Studios to record her 10 new original tracks and self-produce them. Throughout her multi-decade-long career, Grammy-winning Lynne has combined eras, influences and genres to create a sound familiar, yet unique.
Lucky for us, Shelby Lynne’s thirteenth album, her first in more than three years, is her of her best yet. And that’s saying a lot because Lynne has recorded some great discs, such as I Am Shelby Lynne (1999) Just a Little Lovin’ (2008) and Revelation Road (2011). However, I Can’t Imagine is a tremendous achievement even when compared with Lynne’s previous lofty accomplishments.
Shelby Lynne's rich, stop-you-in-your-tracks powerhouse of a voice has remained a constant throughout her career, but her recorded output has occasionally been marred by uncomfortable compromises when faced with the demands of an industry that rewards easy categorization and commercial performance. To wit, the several major-label releases that preceded 1999's I Am Shelby Lynne have now largely been written out of her story, and Lynne herself has often seemed uncertain of the path to follow after that critical breakthrough; in an ironic twist, she found more solid artistic footing with 2003's Identity Crisis. On I Can't Imagine, Lynne's 13th studio album and first for Rounder, the Alabama-bred singer abandons the comfort of her own Everso Records, but the fiercely independent musical spirit that animated her two most recent, deeply personal full-lengths is still strong.
Shelby Lynne’s lyric sheets read like a series of beautifully self-contained stories, whether they be biographical, fictional, or stylized portraits in miniature. Her album titles, however, run a much more personal gambit. Starting with 2000’s Grammy-winning breakthrough I Am Shelby Lynne, the long-standing Epic Records country darling made a defiant personal declaration, releasing a country album that didn’t sound even remotely like a country album, interpolating Wall of Sound girl-group pop with stylized torch numbers, evocative jazz-accented pieces, and so much more.
After getting fed up with the music business, Shelby Lynne, always true to herself, walked away and formed her own Everso label in 2010. Apparently, she's had a change of heart. I Can't Imagine appears on the stalwart Rounder label distributed by Concord. Recorded at Dockside Studio in Maurice, Louisiana with a small band and a few select guests, the set's ten tracks run a gamut of styles Lynne's explored in the past, from West Coast singer/songwriter musings and New Orleans- and Stax-inspired R&B to rock and Americana, woven inside her own signature brand of sophisticated adult pop.
Shelby LynneI Can’t Imagine(Rounder)3.5 out of 5 stars To paraphrase a cliché, you can take the girl out of the South, but you can’t take the South out of the girl. Shelby Lynne may currently live in California, but the Alabama raised singer/songwriter has always gravitated to the soulful, greasy, red clay music of her home turf. Lynne’s first album in three years, and Rounder debut, returns to a band format (she played all the instruments on her previous release), thereby expanding her sound.
Shelby Lynne has always been a genre-bending artist, and it's been more than just a show of breadth; she uses her broad palette to mask a darker song's intention or turn a bummer of a title like “Life Is Bad” into a hell-raising party. Lynne is one of the few contemporary country figures interested in keying her music to the acute emotional expressions of her lyrics, and self-producing and releasing her last couple of albums allowed her to mine the depths of a very dark past in ways her tenure signed to major labels apparently never permitted. Indeed, it's hard to imagine an album more staunchly Shelby-on-her-own-terms than 2011's Revelation Road, on which she played all the instruments and delivered a jaw-dropping account of the night her father murdered her mother.