Shelby Lynne started her career as a promising mainstream country singer and today she's a critically respected and genre-defying singer/songwriter; charting the trajectory of her career isn't a simple matter, and Lynne's installment in Hip-O's The Definitive Collection isn't entirely successful in doing so, though it's still an admirably thorough look at her work to date. The Definitive Collection starts out with five tunes from Lynne's years with Epic and Morgan Creek, and on these songs one can almost hear the strain as she struggles against the cookie-cutter production and cut-rate songwriting that Nashville was foisting upon her, though the strength of her voice and soulful touch of her phrasing still shines through. Seven of the ten songs from 2000's I Am Shelby Lynne follow, and the difference is like night and day -- not only is the production far more imaginative and sympathetic, but the songs (all written or co-written by Lynne) are smart, heartfelt, and personal in a way her previous work had never been. I Am Shelby Lynne is generally regarded as her best album, and these songs show why -- so much so that one is tempted to suggest that anyone who doesn't own it is better off getting that disc rather than this one. The next five songs skim the cream from Lynne's wildly inconsistent and poorly produced follow-up, Love, Shelby, and frankly that set plays far better in truncated form than as a whole. The set closes out with one song each from Lynne's two fine, self-produced discs for Capitol, and this collection would have been much better served with more songs from Identity Crisis and Suit Yourself than so heavy an emphasis on I Am Shelby Lynne and Love, Shelby (though since Hip-O has free access to those albums and had to license the rest of the material elsewhere, the fact they're represented at all is a pleasant surprise). The Definitive Collection is a rather lopsided portrait of Shelby Lynne's music, but it does make clear that she's a major talent with a remarkable voice, and anyone looking for a introduction to where she's been and where she's going could do far worse than to pick this up.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming