Shelby Lynne

Temptation

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Shelby Lynne is nobody's fool. Since 1990's Tough All Over, this artist has defiantly resisted any attempt to pigeonhole her, and has fought record labels tooth and nail to make the kind of records she wanted to -- even if they weren't commercially viable. Temptation is a case in point. While Tough All Over -- a contemporary country groundbreaker and a classic record in anybody's book -- scored big and Soft Talk netted a couple of mid-level hit singles, nothing could have prepared fans of her first three records for 1993's Temptation. Produced by Brent Maher, whose work with the Judds earned him recognition, the album was Lynne's first for Morgan Creek/Mercury, after leaving Epic a year earlier. What is so utterly startling about the disc is that, while the cover photo features a short-haired, sultry-looking Lynne, who appeared as if straight from a Vogue photo shoot, the music is hardcore jacked-up Western swing and big-band country, featuring a full-on orchestra of the size Bob Wills hired at his zenith -- this one contains an eight-piece horn section, pedal steel, fiddle (of course), guitars galore, bass, and drums. With arrangements by Buddy Skipper, the disc is equally balanced between uptempo finger-popping Western swing and hillbilly boogie and killer jazzed-up country ballads that Patsy Cline would have been hungry to sing in her transition years. What's more, Maher and Lynne (separately) wrote the lion's share of the album, with one track each from John Jarvis and Rory Michael Bourke. The title track opens the set and it roars out of the gate swaggering, with killer male chorus backing vocals done in call-and-response style, a fiddle solo, and burning horns. The midtempo strut of "Feelin' Kind of Lonely Tonight," with its honky tonk piano, waves of horns, and Lynne's upfront sassy vocal, is the kind of jazzy "good girl about to go bad" number that will get the punters on the dancefloor as well. But in the ballads, with their blues roots (like in "Tell Me I'm Crazy" and the closer, "Where Do We Go from Here"), one can hear traces of Peggy Lee in front of a polished Ray Charles Orchestra orchestrated and produced by Owen Bradley. Jarvis' "I Need a Heart to Come Home To" is a country song that feels a little like Eric Kaz's "Love Has No Pride," and Lynne's big throaty contralto digs right into the blues in the tune even as the fiddle and pedal steel whine. The jump and swing tunes work best, though, like the title cut, "Don't Cry for Me," and Lynne's "Some of That True Love," all of which are memorable burners. This is a sadly overlooked recording that deserves reexamination in light of the wide berth of styles that contemporary country welcomes within its ranks -- it's hip, sassy, and tough.

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