- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2003

Touring behind one of the most acclaimed albums of the year, “Identity Crisis,” clearly has made Shelby Lynne a happy gal.

Those who remember Miss Lynne from her off-kilter appearance at the 2000 Grammy Awards barely would have recognized her at the 9:30 Club Monday night, the first of three Washington-area shows. (She plays Annapolis Saturday and Frederick, Md., Nov. 12.)

Three years ago, she was angry, pouty, disheveled and slightly trashy. Monday night saw her a chipper Southern belle — albeit dressed in black from neck to toe, with a biker’s chain debouching from her back pocket. A “ya’ll” here and an “ain’t he cute” there, however, belied her citified Debbie Harry drag.

As anyone who’s familiar with Miss Lynne’s unspeakably tragic family history knows, the singer-songwriter would have every right to be permanently furious with the universe. Yet she soldiers on. Makes you wonder: What’s Lucinda Williams’ excuse for complaining so much?

Monday night’s show was all post-reinvention Shelby Lynne — a trio of albums that began with 2000’s revered “I Am Shelby Lynne,” which all but erased her 10-year career as a Nashville Linda Ronstadt, a talented singer but a non-writer.

Her songwriting bona fides were hardly compromised by a few covers. A Johnny Cash medley of “I Walk the Line” and “Ring of Fire” was respectful but unremarkable; a sexy take on Aretha Franklin’s “Do Right Woman” was far better.

A hypnotically good singer, she took particular sultry pleasure in the Queen of Soul’s admonition for the Y-chromosomed to be “do right” dudes. Her own “Evil Man,” a “Mannish Boy” blues for women scorned, was far more blunt.

Playing a telecaster that dwarfed her diminutive toothpick frame, Miss Lynne mined most of her new album, including her traditional country homage to Patsy Cline, “Lonesome,” the heartbreaking “If I Were Smart” and the humorous paean to drunk dialing, “Telephone.”

“How many of you have gotten drunk and picked up the phone and then wish you hadn’t?” she asked. Just about everyone, came the response.

Her “I Am” album, which won her the Grammy as best new artist, also saw several workouts: the blue-eyed soul ballad “Your Lies,” the haunting “Dream Some” and her Alabaman homecomer, “Where I’m From.”

Miss Lynne apparently was shying away from material from 2001’s “Love, Shelby,” an album chock-full of strong writing but marred by Glen Ballard’s chintzy lipstick-and-rouge production. “Killin’ Kind” was the lone “Love” airing.

It was a mysterious choice, as her band, a trio of rootsy Nashville musicians, plus warm-up act Anna Montgomery singing harmonies, could have done justice to those songs by clearing out Mr. Ballard’s glossy overgrowth.

At any rate, the critical rebuke to “Love” must still smart for Miss Lynne, who recounted Monday night that in the aftermath of that album, she took a year off for the first time in her career.

The downtime paid off, and she’s back in her fans’ good graces. The audience Monday (the worst possible night for rock concerts) was small but enthusiastic.

So enthusiastic, in fact, that Miss Lynne said she would like to play to it “10 days a week.”

An enchanting offer, just so long as those three extras are Saturday nights.

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