In giving Shelby Lynne's Identity Crisis even a cursory listen one has to ask the question as to whether the titles of Love, Shelby and this one were reversed by accident. While Love, Shelby, produced by Glen Ballard, was a schizoid mess of R&B, rock, and whatever, Identity Crisis is a deeply focused yet wildly adventurous look at American roots and popular musics as processed by Lynne, who is in top songwriting, vocal, and production shape here. Acting as her own producer with help from mixing engineer Bruce Robb, Lynne has penned 12 tough songs that showcase her true gift for lyricism and melody and display the real reach of her vocal prowess on a series of rootsy, souled-out -- sometimes psychedelic -- rockers and pop tunes. The sheer rock & roll abandon of "Gotta Get Better" could have been recorded by Beck, whereas the shimmering, down-tempo folkiness of "I Don't Think So," with gorgeous Fender Rhodes touches by Billy Payne of Little Feat, is harrowing in its heartbroken candor and seductive with its sultry melody that crosses Dusty Springfield with Scott Walker. Elsewhere, such as on the loopy, funky B-3-drenched "I'm Alive," Sheryl Crow's dark side meets the razor-sharp lyric sensibilities of John Mellencamp's Scarecrow-era material. But then, on "Lonesome," the classic countrypolitan-style honky tonk of Owen Bradley with Patsy Cline, or Chet Atkins with Connie Smith comes flowing through like honey in a sieve. The easy bluesy swing -- à la Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith -- on "Buttons and Beaus" is a something Bonnie Raitt might have recorded in the early '70s, if she had a razor's-edge delivery and skewed sense of humor. The tough, acoustic Chicago blues colored by a B-3 makes a standout of "Evil Man." The Tin Pan Alley-meets-Donovan touch on "One With the Sun" makes it the perfect closer, a loopy love song with clever lyrics, pastoral, romantic strings, and a melody that comes from timeless American pop music. Suffice to say, that while Lynne's career has produced many fine recordings -- I Am Shelby Lynne from 2000 being a recent case in point -- Identity Crisis is easily the most consistent record she had released since Tough All Over in 1990, and is without a doubt the most moving, ambitious, and elegant album of her career thus far. She sets a new standard for singers and songwriters with this collection, making it a candidate for any serious Top Ten of 2003. There is no identity crisis here, just the indelible mark of a mature, intense, always engaging artist.
Identity Crisis Review
by Thom Jurek