- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 2, 2003

Listening to the 12 stunning tracks on Shelby Lynne’s dark and delicious “Identity Crisis” is almost a voyeuristic experience. There are times

when you ask yourself, “Did she really just say what I thought she said?”

Check the lyric sheet. She did say it. And wait until you hear what she sings on the next one.

Miss Lynne thrilled fans and copped a Grammy a couple of years ago with the audacious country/soul of “I am Shelby Lynne,” a breathtaking breakout for the Alabama-raised singer, her incomparable pipes and her eclectic musical sensibility.

Here, it seemed, was the next Lucinda Williams: Someone smart and sexy and adventurous who wasn’t afraid to sound like the South. The next Lucinda, though, wasn’t enough for the record company. They wanted the next Sheryl Crow, and Miss Lynne’s rocked-up, over-produced “Love, Shelby,” complete with the cheek-baring cheesecake photo on the cover, lacked the rough-hewn charm of the previous release.

It didn’t click with audiences or critics and left some fans holding their breath, waiting to see which Shelby Lynne would emerge from the wreckage.

The answer came a couple of weeks ago, with “Identity Crisis,” a stripped-down piece of Americana that’s going to do a lot to restore the luster to Miss Lynne’s star.

The 34-year-old singer’s eighth album finds her in a confessional mood, her lyrics dark and doubtful. Several of the songs here seem to capture intensely personal snatches of dialogue between estranged lovers.

On “Telephone,” she makes the embarrassing admission, “I never really thought that you would answer/ Now it’s a big blown-up thing/ I wish you hadn’t been at home/ When the telephone rang.” “I Don’t Think So” is quietly poignant, with its desperate — and altogether appropriate in a heartache song — double negative in the chorus, “I can’t take your not loving me anymore.” These lyrics read like they’re lifted from a brokenhearted woman’s diary.

But while Miss Lynne’s stark meditations on disappointment give “Identity” its focus and intelligence, it is the hooky melodies, the sultry voice and the astonishing command of a dozen distinct musical styles that will keep this CD in the car stereo for the next few months.

There’s nothing here as exuberant or as soaring as the Phil Spectorized “Your Lies,” from 2000’s “I am Shelby Lynne.” But the musical odyssey on “Identity” should allay any concerns that Miss Lynne is playing it safe: She essays a little gut-bucket blues, a la Bonnie Raitt, on “Evil Man,” chugs through a rockabilly rave-up on “Gotta Be Better” and does a dead-on Patsy Cline in the country crooner “Lonesome.”

After submitting to the machinations of Alanis Morissette producer Glen Ballard on her last record, Miss Lynne takes over most of the production duties here and the decision pays dividends. Free to indulge her own impeccable instincts, she shifts effortlessly from guitar blues to torch songs to country folk. She also handles all the guitar work on the record, and she’s a surprisingly accomplished picker, whether strumming through the beautiful “If I Were Smart,” or rollicking along with the gospel-flavored “Ten Rocks.”

Washington-area fans won’t have to wait long to see if the 12 gems on “Identity” sparkle on stage as brightly as they do on the new record: Miss Lynne is due at the 9:30 Club on Nov. 3 and five days later at the Ram’s Head in Annapolis.


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