Born in Virginia and raised in Alabama, singer-songwriter Shelby Lynne is an eclectic artist whose blend of styles includes country, Americana, R&B, western swing, big-band jazz, pop and rock.
“I don’t really care for labels, and I think that’s partly what’s wrong with music these days,” Lynne says.
“They’ve gotta call it something. I just leave it to the listener. They can call it whatever they want to.”
Lynne, whose younger sister, Allison Moorer, is a successful country singer, began her recording career with the song “If I Could Bottle This Up,” a duet with George Jones in 1988.
About 10 years ago, Lynne won the Grammy Award for best new artist following the release of her 2000 album, “I Am Shelby Lynne.”
In the 2005 Johnny Cash biopic, Lynne portrayed his mother, Carrie Cash.
Two years ago, Lynne released the Dusty Springfield tribute album “Just a Little Lovin’ ” at the urging of friend Barry Manilow.
Lynne starts her own record label
Always a maverick, Lynne left Lost Highway to form her own label, Everso Records. Her first release on Everso is “Tears, Lies and Alibis,” featuring her stirring vocals and deft songwriting. Among the songs is “Loser Dreamer,” offering an all-too-real perspective on musicians and romantic relationships; and “Something to Be Said,” an ode to the silver-skinned, retro-looking Airstream trailer.
Among the more poignant songs is “Alibi,” a melancholy tune about infidelity.
The recording featured two veterans of the Muscle Shoals, Ala., recording scene — bassist David Hood and organist Spooner Oldham — as well as drummer Rick Reed, drummer-percussionists Bryan Owings and Kenny Malone, upright bassist Dave Jacques and pianist Mark Jordan.
In regard to leaving Lost Highway and starting her own label, Lynne says, “I’ve never felt more free.”
Lynne, whose gentle Alabama drawl conveys a sense of world-weariness, performs an all-ages show at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday (April 27) at the Triple Door. Tickets: $28. For reservations, visit the club’s Web site or call 206-838-4333.
I recently talked to Lynne by phone from her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. (near Palm Springs), where she has lived since 1998.
Q: I know your tastes tend toward the retro. Did you pick the mid-’50s Cadillac that appears in your promotional photo?
“I love old Cadillacs. They sent me pictures of three Cadillacs. There was a ‘55 or ‘56, and then a ‘62 and then a ‘69. So I went for the old yellow one because I’d never been that close to one. It was beautiful.”
Q: I missed your performance at the SXSW music conference and festival in March in Austin, Texas. How did it go?
“It’s such a crazy mess down there. I went down there originally to play a private party for my distribution company, Fontana, and that’s really why I went. . . . It’s such a crowded mess, to tell you the truth. It’s a lot of industry (people), so there’s a lot yappin’ goin’ on. It’s frustrating.”
Q: I understand you’ve lived in Rancho Mirage for about 12 years. Is there a community of musicians there?
“Not that I know of. I’m down here for just that reason. There’s nothing going on here.”
Q: Except for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
“Yeah, but I never have been because I’ve always been on tour every time it happens. But I haven’t met too many players here either. I’m sure there’s tons. I’m just here because it’s quiet and beautiful and it’s not a big scene. I can have peace and quiet. I’m not a big-city person.”
Q: Your last album paid tribute to British singer Dusty Springfield. Do you identify with her personally or professionally?
Q: What inspired you to do the album then?
“Well, I wanted to do a cover record. And you know that’s always tricky when you do cover records. People think it’s funny, but Barry Manilow lives out here and he’s a friend of mine. And he said to me, ‘Have you ever thought about doing the Dusty Springfield songbook?’ And I said, ‘No, never.’
“Through the years, people have made silly comparisons about (me and Springfield) and I don’t know why because there’s absolutely nothing about us that’s alike. People come up with the funniest reasons for comparisons, but I guess the ‘Dusty in Memphis’ record kind of reminded people of it.
“Anyway, I thought, You know, it’s not a bad idea. Because the songs are so amazing and she was such a great singer. I thought, Well, I can kill two birds. I can do a cover album and bring Dusty into it and pay tribute to an amazing singer.”
Q: Did you have a theme in mind when you were writing songs for ‘Tears, Lies and Alibis’? Were you in a certain head space about relationships and other themes?
“No, I never am. I never make plans when I write songs and do records. The songs just come when they’re ready to come. Hopefully, I’ll be standing there with a catcher’s mitt, ready to catch them. I try not to make plans, and I let the music do the work. It ended up being this cool, kinda romantic, acousticky trip-through-America record. I wrote a lot of songs for this record.”
Q: There’s lot of great stuff on this album. “Alibi” has a forlorn, lonesome sound that reminds me of Glen Campbell and songwriter Jimmy Webb.
Desert storm inspires ‘Rains Came’
Q: I noticed a clarinet on “Rains Came.” That’s kind of unusual on a pop album these days. Who played it?
“Actually, it’s a bass clarinet. It was my good buddy Randy Leago, who can play any musical instrument. He was in my traveling band for the Dusty tour. And he lives in Nashville. I’m glad I put him on this record because he’s a such good, good friend of mine.”
Q: “Rains Came” grew out of nostalgia for the rain storms you recalled growing up in Alabama? But this song was actually inspired by a storm in the Coachella Valley.
“Yeah, well, when I wrote that song, I was here in the valley. And we had one of those amazing desert storms, so the song was totally inspired by that storm, which didn’t last longer than 10 minutes. But it was really heavy and quite magnificent, really.”
Q: I understand you had a bit of a dry spell before you wrote “Loser Dreamer,” which came to you after a conversation with (recording engineer and musician) Brian Harrison about musicians and their relationships. Can you elaborate?
“Well, it kind of is what it is. ‘Loser Dreamer’ is special to me because I think that if you’re a musician, that’s what you are, a loser-dreamer. It’s just luck that you’re able to make a living at it.
“So Brian and I were talking and I don’t think I was ready to write yet. I knew I wanted to and I was getting ready to, but I didn’t know when or how. And then one morning when we were talking, he mentioned an old girlfriend and how she broke up with him. They’d been together for a certain amount of time and he was not changing like she wanted him to. And so when she left, she said, ‘You’re just a loser-dreamer.’
“And when he said it, I thought, Oh, God, I like the way that sounds. Because don’t we all have that in us if we’re a musician? And then I got to thinking about all the other people I know that you run into in this crazy business, this crazy life. If it weren’t for the loser-dreamers, well, the world wouldn’t go around without us. So I appreciate the loser-dreamers a lot.”
Love affair with an Airstream trailer
Q: “Something to Be Said” is an ode to an Airstream trailer. Do you own one or are you hoping to buy one? Maybe an old one?
“I don’t know yet. I can’t really decide. You can go retro, but you have to make sure you get a clean, good one, and I want something that’s kind of right.”
Q: An old Airstream would look great behind that old Cadillac.
“Tell me about it.”
Q: For “Tears, Lies and Alibis,” you brought in David Hood and Spooner Oldham. Had you known them a long time?
“No, I hadn’t. I met Spooner at a gig one time, but I’ve never hung out with those cats. We all know their history, when I went back to Nashville and took a chance and called them to see if they wanted to drive up from Alabama, which isn’t very far, they said, ‘Sure.’
“So we spent the weekend together and we had the time of our lives. It was truly wonderful to get to hang out with them. Every time they put their fingers on an instrument, something magic happened.”
Q: Give me a little background on leaving Lost Highway and starting your own label, Everso. You had actually recorded all the songs for the new album, but Lost Highway insisted that you use a big-name producer. It must have been a bitter disappointment.
“No, it wasn’t. I’ve never felt more free. I’m so glad to be rid of the label. It was getting to be a real, real bore . The same old routine with the record label not understanding anything, not giving a crap about the art. All that money they have, but they didn’t want to spend any. It was just a drag.
“I’m glad it happened. . . . I’ve never gotten more done. I don’t have to answer to anybody, or ask for anybody’s permission. I can put records out all year if I want to. I don’t have to go through that waiting and the disappointment that’s usually on the other end.
“When you’re an artist that doesn’t sell a lot of records anyway, it gets tough to have to go through this over and over. And I figured after 20 years, that was enough.”
Q: Were you surprised at Lost Highway’s insistence that you re-do the album?
“No, I’m never surprised at labels. They’re silly and they’re scared and they don’t get it.”
Christmas album this year
Q: It’s their loss, I guess.
“Well, it’s my gain. I can’t tell you what it feels like to be able to put out this record and it’s all mine. I don’t have to worry about, ‘Well, what is so-and-so gonna think?’ The freedom is amazing. And I’m so happy. I don’t have any anger or any bitterness. I don’t give a damn. I’m out of it, I’m free and I’m like, ‘Let’s go!’ I’m even going to put out a Christmas record this year.
Q: Your first?
“For 20 years I’ve wanted to put out a Christmas record. I’m recording it in June and I’ll have it out by Christmas.”
Q: Tell me more.
“Well, I have an outline of what I want to do, but I haven’t chosen the musicians yet. I’ll probably keep it pretty traditional; that’s my favorite type of Christmas record. I like to put on a Christmas record that, every year, you know you’re going to love. Like Willie Nelson’s ‘Pretty Paper.’ You put that on and you know what you’re going to get. It just feels like Christmas. I really want to make a record like that.”
Q: Describe your show Tuesday at the Triple Door?
“Well, I’m gonna do these songs from the album and a lot of my older songs. I don’t know what yet. It’s just gonna be me and Brian (Harrison) on bass and John Jackson on guitar. I’m not going to have drums on this trip because I feel like this is an album that I can go out and create an intimate thing with. Not that I don’t like drums, please, I do. But sometimes I like to have a low-key thing.”
Q: I’ve read that “Like a Fool” is your favorite song on this album. It was used in the 2007 film “Army Wives.”
“It’s just so easy and simple and it’s about the tragedy of love. I almost threw it away. It was like a joke song. I wrote it so fast and thought, That’ll never be on the record. And I threw it in the drawer. And then I turned it into this cool record, and with that great solo by Mark Jordan, it made it really romantic.”