If 2011’s self-produced, self-released Revelation Road was Shelby Lynne leveling and exorcising the ghosts of her past, I Can’t Imagine harvests the remaining sweetness of her Southern childhood—the formative years enthralled by indigenous artistic forms and a pace far slower and more sultry.
The Alabama singer/songwriter, now living in Palm Springs, Calif., decamped to Louisiana’s Dockside Studios to record her 10 new original tracks and self-produce them.
Throughout her multi-decade-long career, Grammy-winning Lynne has combined eras, influences and genres to create a sound familiar, yet unique. Imagine continues in that tradition. “I Can’t Explain,” with its steel guitar puddles and elegant rhythms, is Nashville classic, without becoming sodden. The folkie “Back Porch Front Door” is a minimalist R&B confession.
Lynne seems to share her musical inspirations in her songs, too, paying homage to some of country’s heroes. “Down Here” evokes Neil Young’s “Southern Man” and creates a sense of embrace beyond what can be seen. In the dobro-drenched “Be In The Now,” there’s a swampy funk that’s equal parts gospel and Muscle Shoals, while “Son of A Gun” offers a bit of Bobbie Gentry’s smoky mystery to the slow-moving ramble. Elsewhere, the loose-grooved soul of “Sold The Devil (Sunshine)” suggests Dusty Springfield at her most languid. Springfield and Petula Clark swirl beneath much of this California hippie country/Memphis steam bringing a retro-pop sparkle to tracks that are organic and move at their own pace.
Since 2000s, Lynne has spent her years considering life’s colors, commonalities and caverns. In the opener “Paper Van Gogh,” she intones, “I threw these colors down in a fit of rage, my feelings hardly fit onto the page/ Cloudy memories make for darker grays, but blue is how I paint my mood today.” It’s a confession, an expunging and a reason to ratify our busted places. But the rest of I Can’t Imagine evokes and conjures the moments beyond twilight and daybreak, colorful and fraught emotions that she draws from us like a painter who understands his palette.