TERRY GROSS, host: When Shelby Lynne won the Best New Artist Grammy Award in 2000, she had already been making music professionally for a dozen years. Now, nearly a dozen years after that, she's released "Revelation Road" on her own label, writing, producing and playing everything on the collection. Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REVELATION ROAD")
SHELBY LYNNE: (Singing) Thought they had it on me. But the truth it lay upon me. Like the Mississippi River, runs deeper on the coast. I don't know what happened. I was acting on my passion, wearing the latest fashion, I wandered in the cold.
KEN TUCKER: If the title of her new album is a tad portentous, Shelby Lynne is determined to make precisely detailed mood music, not a succession of revelatory moments, throughout "Revelation Road." And that's ultimately what gives the album its strength. It's underpinned with sturdy melodies, the occasional bright image, and above all else her exceptional voice, which cuts across every song with a sharp, slicing motion.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVEN ANGELS")
LYNNE: (Singing) You went and did it, big time. You let your heart get in the way, what a crime. You are so innocent, can't tell a lie. But, you know, even angels fall down sometimes. You're like a little child...
TUCKER: Shelby Lynne has such an exceptional voice, it's carried her over a career of uneven albums. She began that career firmly in country music territory, recording a duet with George Jones that led to Jones' producer, Billy Sherrill, producing her debut album in 1989. Since that time, however, Lynne has proven to be restless, rebellious and, it seems to an outsider, unsure of or frustrated by her musical identity. Fast forward to today, which finds Lynne making albums on her own label, called Everso Records. On the latest, she's written, produced and played everything on "Revelation Road," and the music is expansive enough to include a torchy pop ballad such as "Lead Me Love."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LEAD ME LOVE")
LYNNE: (Singing) I'll be courageous this time, won't turn to stone. I'll give a deeper love than you have known. I'll trust my heart to pound when love is the only sound. Lead me love.
TUCKER: The early part of Lynne's career was defined by a real-life tragedy. When she was 17, Lynne's father murdered her mother and killed himself. Thus, she and her younger sister, the singer Allison Moorer, were left orphaned. After a while, Lynne grew understandably tired of answering interviewers' questions about this event, but on the new album she's written a startlingly direct song about it, composed from the point of view of her father as he loads his gun. It's called "Heaven's Only Days Down the Road."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEAVEN'S ONLY DAYS DOWN THE ROAD")
LYNNE: (Singing) There will come a day when they gather and stand around, revel in the glory and my body in the ground. There will be disciples in each aisle that cover me. I won't be afraid 'cause my soul has been set free. One hundred or so miles from the Moblie River. Lord, I can't have her so I got to kill her. Heaven's only days down the road. A liquor store down on the county line. Don't want all the land but what's next to mine. Heaven's only days down the road. I've been insane since I was nine, never was the cryin' but the fightin' kind, oh yeah. Load up the gun, full of regret. I ain't even pulled the trigger yet. Oh, yeah. Lost all faith...
TUCKER: As she says in the title of another song here, Shelby Lynne has never needed a reason to cry. The achievement of "Revelation Road" is that this attitude rarely curdles into self-pity or even repetition. Sure, some of the songs here are thin, both in the quality of their metaphors and their arrangements - there are times when you wish she could have used a band behind her, to give the songs some volume in every sense. But for the most part, "Revelation" Road" reminded me once again why I'll continue to listen to everything Lynne puts out. Her voice is an extraordinary instrument, deployed with great shrewdness and delicacy.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed Shelby Lynne's new album, "Revelation Road."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WON'T LEAVE YOU")
LYNNE: (Singing) Come in out of the rain, it's morning again. I understand. Hope you need me when you're well. What the hell. I won't leave you.