Shelby Lynne has been seeking the place inside her music where everything cracks and opens for over a decade. From her Columbia Records debut, she has been writing and singing songs that seek to get underneath themselves and communicate something of the wildness, ambiguity, and emotional depth that is in the grain of her voice. Suit Yourself is a self-produced, loose, organic set of 12 new songs, ten of them originals. Suit Yourself is intimate. Recorded at home and in Nashville, Lynne 's original vocal and guitar demos were used on a part of the album, and she recorded the rest as her band played live from the floor on the Nashville tracks. That band includes Brian "Brain" Harrison on bass (and who mixed the set with Lynne); the Heartbreakers' Benmont Tench on keyboards, pedal steel and mandolin; dobro boss Robby Turner; guitarist Michael Ward; Bryan Owings on drums, and legendary swamp rock guitarist and songwriter Tony Joe White. The feel of these songs is quiet, loose, relaxed, and very immediate. Sounds of ice tinkling in glasses, private conversations, session directions, encouragement, and all manner of whispers and laughter shimmy through the grooves here -- but these informal moments, which seem to exist outside the songs -- inform them the most. The up-tempo, rocking R&B that kicks everything off on "Go With It" is preceded by a conversation and a broken take of the bridge. When the song begins in earnest, Lynne and her band take no prisoners. The guitars ring and shimmer playing staccato against the rhythm section. It's followed by the slow, simmering acoustic paean "Where Am I Now" that feels like it could have been written by a Zen Master: "...Telling's just talking that turns into speeches/Doesn't aid the body with the hand that reaches/Stumble in the void to find there's no one there." "I Cry Everyday" fuses R&B and country-soul like the strands of a cord wrapped around Lynne's voice. Likewise the slippery, back-porch blues rag of "You're the Man" that feels like an open sky on a summer day. The personal manifesto at the heart of "I Won't Die Alone" is one of the finest songs Lynne has ever written, full of resilience fueled by a shuffling rock & roll rhythm, pulsed by brushes on snare and tom-toms in a near military march. And then there's "Johnny Met June," a speculative love song like no other -- it serves as both an elegy and a hymn for the possible, where acoustic guitars ring softly at first, reflectively, but as her tale of sorrow unfolds it transforms itself into a song that is virtually instructive in its meditation on death and reunion; it's full of joy placing love outside the realm of the time-space continuum. Lynne and band also cover a pair of Tony Joe White's tunes. There's a whispering version of his broken-heart ballad "Old Time' Sake, that in Lynne's voice becomes an entirely new song. And then there's the uncredited final track (titled "Track 12"): a cover of "Rainy Night in Georgia," that contains all the passion, elegance and restraint Lynne can muster, proving once again her masterful ability as an interpreter. It's smoky, bluesy, low-lit, and simmers with a passion that bubbles just under the surface of the tune. Suit Yourself is aptly named, Lynne dressed herself this time out with great players and finely wrought songs, and put it all together on her own. This is her finest moment yet.
Suit Yourself Review
by Thom Jurek