Shelby Lynne and k.d. lang
Lovers of torch, twang and gentle angst will delight in these new releases from two of the scene’s most talented chanteuses. Shelby Lynne (who won a Best New Artist Grammy in 2000 after releasing six prior albums) has worked her way through a series of labels, finally landing at Lost Highway. This is certainly becoming one of the most consistently satisfying labels, the seeming respite for road-tested, artistically-driven acts like Elvis Costello, Lyle Lovett, Lucinda Williams and most notably Van Morrison. Lynne had just delivered her last album to Capitol when she received a love note (of sorts) from Barry Manilow, encouraging her to contemplate covering the Dusty Springfield canon. Springfield was Britian’s premier white soul singer, and performed wonderful versions of the Bacharach/David songs in the 1960s. Lynne let Manilow’s suggestion stew, but then recently assembled ace studio wizards Phil Ramone and Al Schmitt and a crack band. The result is a breezy, heartfelt set of ten songs called Just A Little Lovin’. Every song brings a more restrained and thoughtful interpretation when compared to the original version. The title track is a standout, as is “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” and “I Only Want To Be With You.” Various listeners with a strident feminist agenda may balk at the seeming perspective of the weak woman beholden to the overbearing man, themes that only belie the deeper themes below the refrains. Lynne puts her stamp on two potential anomalies: Randy Newman’s “I Don’t Want to Hear it Anymore” and the Rascals’ classic “How Can I Be Sure.” “Pretend,” the only Lynne-penned track, works well with the tone of the other nine tracks. Lynne’s voice is in superb form, and Dean Parks is especially adept with his guitar work.
Watershed is the first collection of originals from k.d. lang in many years. She previewed several songs in one of last summer’s best shows, when she opened for Lyle Lovett at the Greek. Manning the producer’s helm for the first time, lang is adept at bringing out the richness of her magnificent voice. The lushness of the orchestrations and the deft turns of phrase in the lyrics make for a powerful combination. Although her first album was released 20 years ago, it was not until her fourth (Ingenue) that she embraced more of the adult torch singer persona. Her current release continues that thread, with aplomb. There is far less of her early heroine Patsy Cline, and more of, well…Dusty Springfield. Of the eleven tracks, the opener “Dream of Spring” evokes the mercurial mix of the spiritual and sexual mastered so well by the likes of Van Morrison and Al Green. The ever-reliable Greg Liesz provides sterling steel guitar work throughout the album and lang’s long-time musical pardner Ben Mink brings along his musical chops and co-writing credits. This release comes from Nonesuch, another label that has carved a successful niche by giving their artists unfettered freedom to pursue their muse. The results are consistently gratifying.
Fans who want to dig deeper into the ambi/bi/homosexuality of female singers will have already hurried to 'Stay Forever: The Life and Music of Dusty Springfield' at L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center's Renberg Theatre, 1125 N. McCadden Place, Los Angeles.