- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 10, 2001

Love, Shelby
Who is Shelby Lynne now?
Her last album, "I Am Shelby Lynne," was a breakthrough that entitled the singer to lavish acclaim. Critics crowned her an "it girl," and she won a Grammy for best new artist despite having released five previous recordings. Her hyped follow-up, however, is a little disappointing.
"Love, Shelby" is a slick, solid, even fun pop album, and that's exactly the problem. It's hard to say whether fame, her move to Palm Springs, Calif., or collaboration with producer Glen Ballard diluted her rich trove of talent. Somewhere in her conversion from country phenomenon to mainstream pop diva, though, Miss Lynne lost a little of that good grit.
It's not entirely her fault. The industry obviously decided to polish her crossover potential hence the pairing with Mr. Ballard, known as something of a kingmaker for his success with performers such as Alanis Morissette. Miss Lynne may be worth more following the trend of Shania Twain and Faith Hill, but the product seems less engaging, less introspective, less sincere.
Miss Lynne, a 33-year-old native of Quantico, Va., shows she's adept at genre-hopping on "Love," as she skillfully blends blues and jazz influences. Backed by excellent studio musicians, her vocals arch in crescendos of plaintive pain and longing. "Tarpoleon Napoleon" has the sultry groove of a lounge lament. "Ain't It the Truth" swaggers with braggadocio that would make Bonnie Raitt proud. "Wall in Your Heart" broods with somber subtlety.
"Trust Me" and "Bend" have the cloying, supersaturated flavor of heavy-handed production. Miss Lynne shines on the bittersweet ballad "Killin' Kind," already featured on the "Bridget Jones's Diary" soundtrack. Attempts at deeper poetics, including "Jesus on a Greyhound," fall flat. Most of the lines on "Love" are hackneyed couplets, such as: "I feel your pain/I feel the rain."
Miss Lynne's biography is hardscrabble Southern gothic. She grew up in Alabama, and her parents died in a murder-suicide, the pain of which is referred to obliquely in her cover of John Lennon's "Mother." The singer helped raise her sister and found her way to Nashville with a demo tape at the end of her teens. Yet the only country left on "Love" is her accent, a twang that tears through the album's saccharine lacquer.
Shelby Lynne is a strong artist with powerful pipes, and she shines despite the faults of "Love." It's a good album that could have been great.
Bruce Hamilton

(Virgin Records)
Lenny Kravitz serves as singer, songwriter, producer and arranger on his new album, the drably titled "Lenny."
Critics who delight in trashing Mr. Kravitz in a steady drumbeat for raiding rock's archives will have plenty of fodder with the musician's sixth album. Let them all talk themselves blue. It's hardly a crime to seek inspiration from the past.
Mr. Kravitz melds funk, psychedelia and rock into an arresting package, one not altogether estranged from his first five releases.
"Lenny" opens with the pedestrian "Battlefield of Love," an intriguing metaphor wounded by the too-obvious sounds of armed conflict. Mr. Kravitz's overlapping choruses, a verbal trick used repeatedly and to good effect, apply some needed balm.
He rights himself quickly on "If I Could Fall in Love," a heady cocktail of echo-chamber vocals and plain-spoken pleadings.
"Yesterday Is Gone (My Dear Kay)" begins quietly as Mr. Kravitz and his acoustic guitar stake out a wistful mood before he unleashes its ethereal hook.
"Believe in Me" sounds like a syrupy 1970s ballad with a pleasing vocal pushed to near falsetto.
The big surprise in the album's first single, "Dig In," is that it offers more promise in its talky buildup than its flat payoff supplies.
"God Save Us All" builds upon a riff straight out of Rock 101 until it explodes into a sublime chorus, a respite from its hackneyed social commentary.
The singer, still committed to an anachronistic Afro true to his soul roots, expended as much originality on some lyrics as he did on the album title. The sum of his efforts, though, often lends heft to his leaden prose.
"Not everything in life is meant to last," the rocker once known as Romeo Blue laments, a sentiment that could have applied to his own career.
Instead, "Lenny" gleeful balances old-school soul with perennial rock flourishes to produce an album of guilty pleasures recorded without apology. Christian Toto

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