Shelby Lynne has followed her own sometimes reckless, always adventuresome muse throughout her career. Just a Little Lovin' is her personal homage to the late, legendary Dusty Springfield. Nine of its ten cuts are inextricably linked to the late British vocalist whose sway Lynne came under years ago, but a chance conversation with Barry Manilow -- of all people -- led to the making of this record. Lynne doesn't attempt to sound like Springfield. She uses her own phrasing and rhythmic sensibility. Four cuts here come from the Dusty in Memphis period, as well as the title track to The Look of Love and some of her mid-'60s British hits that were not released in America. All these songs, with the exception of the self-penned "Pretend," were recorded by Springfield. The album was recorded in the Capitol Records studio with Frank Sinatra's microphone and producer Phil Ramone. Lynne's aesthetic sense serves her well: most singers automatically shoot for "Son of a Preacher Man," but Lynne steers clear. She does, however, tackle some truly monolithic Springfield hits: "Just a Little Lovin'," "Breakfast in Bed," "Willie and Laura Mae Jones," and "I Don't Want to Hear It Anymore." Lynne's readings are close, intimate. They're understated but more direct. Ramone used a small quartet in guitarist Dean Parks, keyboardist Rob Mathes, drummer Gregg Field, and bassist Kevin Axt to give her that edge. Lynne's delivery takes these songs straight to the listener's belly. The taut but easy sensuality in her voice adds a very different dimension to them.
When she gets to the in-the-pocket feel of "Breakfast in Bed," she comes at the tune's subject with an up-front sexual expression -- Springfield's trademark vulnerability is willfully absent. A Rhodes and Parks' guitar give her plenty of room to pour out the lyric. "Willie and Laura Mae Jones" has a rough, swampy earthiness; Lynne adds her guitar to its sparse, slow growl. Springfield recorded this tome about interracial love when the subject was taboo in America. She made it palatable with her innocent delivery. Lynne gets at Tony Joe White's lyric with a bluesy toughness expressing incredulity toward injustice. Randy Newman's "I Don't Want to Hear It Anymore" carries inside it the trace of both Lynne's Southern homeland and her adopted West Coast residency. She can tell this heartbreaking tale as if it were her own while uncannily recalling Springfield's empathy. Signature Springfield pieces such as "I Only Want to Be with You" are astonishing for their contrast. The bubbly, poppy original version is slowed here; it offers the impression of genuine surprise by an unsuspecting protagonist. The jazzy piano and Parks' lush guitar lines entwine perfectly. Springfield's version of "The Look of Love" has remained unchallenged for more than 40 years. Lynne doesn't even try. Instead she offers tribute. It's not as sultry as the original was, but feels honest and hungry in stripping off the lyric's mask with her voice. "How Can I Be Sure" by the Rascals -- cut as a British-only single by Springfield -- is startling: Lynne sings it accompanied only by Parks' guitar. It's a radical but fitting closer. Just a Little Lovin' is the finest tribute Springfield has ever received on tape. That such a fine singer and songwriter interpreted her in such an empathic and sophisticated manner is respect personified. Ramone's care with the project is, as usual, celebratory. The multidimensional persona Lynne usually displays on her records is still here in spades. Her diversity, confidence, and wide-ranging ability are the standard to aspire to.