Here’s a clip of Alabama-born country-soul songstress Shelby Lynne with her 2001 song “Leaving” as taken from her critically-hailed album I Am Shelby Lynne. Apart from being a knock-out song, it shows that the lines between country and soul music are pretty blurry. Radio station and big box record store conglomerates take note: music is bigger than your categories.
The first time I heard this, I’d been reading about Shelby Lynne and her record in a number of music publications. At the time, it had made a big splash in the press as a record that bent the rules of country, and dared to bring in outside influences like soul, adult pop, and even a touch of jazz. In hearing this I wondered if this was an Aretha Franklin song that someone else was tackling. This to me owes a huge debt to soul music and R&B, yet something in Lynne’s delivery makes it a country song too. But, I can definitely hear late-60s Aretha all over this. In short, this tune sold me. It matched everything I was reading about in the music papers – a rare thing indeed! After hearing this tune, I went out and bought the album that very week.
There’s something so universal in the story being told, and Lynne’s weary-voiced narrator is both tired yet strong at the same time. It packs a punch too, in that it represents such a complex web of emotion – sadness, anger, steadfast resolve and more. As a great example of songs about break-ups, this one is something of a treasure, a gem among lesser songs that make the reality of breaking up a black and white issue, when most times it is anything but.
I must admit, it’s taken me a long time to come around to the charms of country music. Most of the reasons for that might be because country can be such an uptight genre, trying to rebuff any attempts at messing with its formula. It tends to be placed in a musical ghetto, with country music radio stations enforcing the rules. But, in hearing this, I was reminded that most of the genres I appreciate – rock ‘n’ roll, soul, blues, and even jazz – were pioneered and crafted by musicians living or hailing from the same places that country music comes from, the American South.
And it’s a great trend more recently, that many musicians are going forward with this in mind. And by this, I don’t mean “hat” country artists (you know they’re country because they wear cowboy hats all the time…) who are making bland pop music and putting a pedal steel and dobro on top of it and calling it a country record. No. I mean artists like Shelby Lynne, Norah Jones, Mary Chapin-Carpenter, Rodney Crowell, The Dixie Chicks, Steve Earle, and others who recognize that country music is a part of a continuum, influencing and being influenced by many other musical forms, yet still being a part of its own tradition too. Notice that most of those acts I just mentioned don’t wear cowboy hats?
They don’t have to.
For more information about Shelby Lynne, check out www.shelbylynne.com.