Album Review: Shelby Lynne – Tears, Lies, And Alibis

by Jason LeRoy on April 21, 2010

Shelby Lynne, one of the most defiantly self-sufficient female recording artists of her generation, has returned with yet another collection of sparse, intimate country/folk/blues/soul. Tears, Lies, and Alibis is written by Lynne, produced by Lynne, and — for the first time — released on Lynne’s own label, Everso Records. The woman has been dicked over by labels too many times by in her 20+ years as a recording artist, so she finally just invested in a label of one’s own. Get it, girl!

Tears, Lies, and Alibis is Lynne’s 11th album, and her fifth since her surprise Best New Artist Grammy win in 2001 (despite the fact that she’d been releasing albums since 1989). It comes two years after her Dusty Springfield tribute album, Just A Little Lovin’, which was perhaps her biggest bid at mainstream success since the dismal performance of her 2001 pop album, Love, Shelby. While the Springfield album was generally well-received, it wasn’t quite the watershed moment Lynne’s camp had been hoping for, despite a media blitz than even included a lengthy profile in the New York Times Sunday Magazine.

And so, just like in 2001, Lynne has retreated to a much more stripped-down place. She released Identity Crisis in 2003 and Suit Yourself in 2005, and each were fine examples of Lynne in her comfort zone: tight, live-in-the-studio acoustic arrangements and plucky, occasionally bruised melodies, animated by Lynne’s honey-smooth contralto. Tears, Lies, and Alibis is very much in the spirit of those two albums, and finds Lynne in excellent form as a singer, songwriter, and producer.

The album kicks off with “Rains Came,” one of the most immediately toe-tapping, swinging songs in all of Lynne’s catalog. This good-time vibe continues with “Why Didn’t You Call Me.” The mood turns a bit blue with the sad, spare country of “Like A Fool,” followed by the mournful acoustic torch of “Alibi.” “Something To Be Said About Airstreams” is a weary ode to mobile homes, while “Family Tree” finds Lynne in an exceptionally bitter mood, accompanied only by a sharp acoustic guitar.

But then comes “Loser Dreamer,” one of the most tender, fragile, beautiful songs Lynne has ever written. This is followed by “Old #7,” a bluesy boozy drinking song, and then “Old Dog,” which is reminiscent of Gillian Welch’s darker material. The album closes with “Home Sweet Home,” a warmly melodic little ditty than ends things on a note of uplift and comfort.

“I know I’ve seen that man before / Back and forth to distant shores / Daylight starts and night begins / I don’t know what state I’m in,” Lynne sings of the disorientation of touring, before celebrating the feeling of finally heading home, where she “left the back gate open.” And similarly, this album finds Lynne returning home to her favorite place: a sparse, unguarded world of bittersweet heartache and flawless artistry.

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