Shelby Lynne Live Review @ Middlesbrough Town Hall/ The Crypt (Middlesbrough) - 23 Feb 2012
Photos: Simon Godley link
She is Shelby Lynne. She is a singer, a songwriter and a performing artist. She grew up in Alabama, in the south east of the United States of America. She is now 43 years old. She is a Grammy Award winner. This is Middlesbrough. It is a town in the north east of England. It is probably hundreds of years old. It was once famous for its great steelworks, chemical plants and shipbuilding.
Tonight Shelby Lynne is appearing in the Crypt in Middlesbrough Town Hall. It is not that easy to place her in this town. Later, though, when she introduces "I'll Hold Your Head", a beautifully poignant song from her most recent album "Revelation Road" in which Lynne relives precious memories from her childhood years, she tells us that we all know about country round here. Thinking about that statement now, it does seem to make a strange, if perfect sense; Shelby Lynne, the state of Alabama and Middlesbrough with their respective experiences of broken relationships, economic hardship and industrial decline and all of them captured in the overwhelming feelings of sadness, loss and yearning which populate so many great country songs.
For some seventy five minutes Shelby Lynne stands in the stark illumination of a single spotlight, just her and her guitar. Time hangs suspended throughout as she holds us spellbound. In a wonderfully balanced set, she opens with "Lookin' Up" from her breakthrough album "I Am Shelby" and then slowly develops the early stages of the show with songs from "Revelation Road" before forsaking the newer material to draw extensively from both "I Am Shelby" and the subsequent record "Love, Shelby". It is a quietly breath-taking experience as she gauges the mood and momentum of her performance to absolute perfection. As the embers of the closing "Where I'm From" slowly faded it was evident she wasn't coming back for an encore. She did not come back because there was absolutely no need to do so; she had already done it all.
Stripped of the big Hollywood production gloss of her earlier albums, it was startling to hear how quite extraordinary Shelby Lynne's voice actually is. With her faraway eyes staring abstractedly into the middle distance throughout to some unknown point where it was impossible to decipher what she was seeing, thinking or feeling, Lynne projected that magnificent instrument across the bowels of this grand gothic building, her vocal range spanning every conceivable emotion from vulnerability to strength. Whilst many of her songs do speak extensively of betrayal, wasted relationships and regret and her voice does accurately convey the hurt and anguish of these experiences, it also holds dear the indomitability of the human spirit. The "Killin' Kind" captures all of this and more as she powers her way through the song's inherent disappointment to a place somewhere beyond where sanguine acceptance lies. "Jesus on a Greyhound" offers a similar path out of the darkness, again delivered in a voice oscillating between deep-fried Southern soul and country noir. Perhaps appositely she concludes with "Where I'm From". That is Alabama. This was Middlesbrough. This is Shelby Lynne. And she was magnificent.