Sunday, 23 August 2015

Shelby Lynne – I Can’t Imagine, album review

Echo and Empathy

From the instant Lynne’s unaccompanied vocal starts Paper Van Gogh – yes, just those 6 seconds – you know this will be a sublime song, as will the whole album. Obviously, this judgement is born of past experience and expectation, but it is also born of the hearing in that moment.

This opening song is soon filled out with acoustic guitar and then a gospel-esque choir in support, and it is a pretty melody. Next Back Door Front Porch is more familiar in that expectation, a sultry edge to the tone and the harmony, then the back door, front porch, window chorus asserts its simple but potent presence, more drawling harmonising to follow. When the chorus is next sung it is echoed quickly after each third, and the slide guitar adds atmosphere; the third time the chorus is repeated the accompanying vocals pick up a more obvious singsong echo. This ‘style’ will be found again.

Third Sold the Devil [Sunshine] is a funky one. Next Son of a Gun is bluesy, acoustic guitar and piano providing a simple backdrop over which a synth adds sweet tones, and complex vocal harmonies layer parts of the chorus. Fifth Down Here is a punchier swampblues with punchier guitar bursts, and then more sustained guitar and organ as it rises to its rock anthem out in the country line, that line getting the repeat echo I mentioned earlier, establishing a style, establishing another expectation.

Next Love is Strong, co-written with Ron Sexsmith, continues the bluesy mood/mode, and Lynne’s vocal continues in its sultry strength, self-harmonising adding resonating depths to its tone. Seventh Better is typical Lynne territory, voice and vocal harmony adding emotion, the male voice, echoing lines again, added along with rising orchestration to push these peaks. Eighth Be in the Now is another Sexsmith assist with a genuinely catchy Never mind the rain/It only means to show you how hook. Penultimate track Following You begins with plucked banjo and a piercing squeal before the Gentry-esque guitar and southern soul melody are carried on more harmonising.

The album closes on the title track, a pedal-steel Country start, before the simple but beautiful descending melody is introduced. A country blues that soothes in its ironic empathy [recall the title] for another’s sadness; soothes in the sound of that glorious vocal.

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