Power of Soul

Shelby Lynne covers Dusty Springfield.

By Craig D. Lindsey
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Apr. 2, 2008

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Illustration by Alex Fine

There was an issue I had to take up with Shelby Lynne when I interviewed her not too long ago about her newest album Just a Little Lovin', a collection of covers from the late Dusty Springfield. It's an issue I had to address on behalf of all the Philadelphia soul fans who'll probably have the same problem when she performs this weekend.

But first, let's talk about the album.

Many of the tracks Lynne includes on Lovin' are classic Springfield tunes from the albums Dusty in Memphis and A Girl Called Dusty. It's even produced by Phil Ramone, who produced Springfield's "The Look of Love" for the Casino Royale soundtrack in 1967. (Yes, it's on there too.)

"I wanted to do the songs I could do best," says Lynne, who thankfully didn't go for the obvious and redo "Son of a Preacher Man." "And being that Dusty already made such great records with these songs, I had to choose the songs that I really had to make my own, I could really put my own signature on. And I really chose my favorites."

Lynne does indeed put her own stamp on the songs, adding a torchy quality to the bare, sparse production. "I kind of like a more spontaneous approach to making records," she says. "So we just went in and had a list of songs. It was a four-piece band and I was the singer, and so we really turned into a five-piece band. We found a key and a groove and recorded it."

And now here's the problem: Why didn't she cover any tunes from From Dusty With Love, which was released in America under the name A Brand New Me?

Released back in 1970, Me is quite significant around these parts. Just as Memphis had the British blue-eyed soul queen heading to American Studios in Tennessee to get with Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd and Arif Mardin for that authentic "Memphis sound," Me found Springfield traveling to Philadelphia to join forces with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff (at Sigma Sound Studios, of course) to record what would become known as the "Philadelphia sound."

As it's written in the liner notes of the great box set The Philly Sound: Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff & the Story of Brotherly Love (1966-1976), Gamble & Huff gave the British beauty "a songbook the size of a city block," with tracks written by Gamble, Huff, Thom Bell, Jerry Butler, Roland Chambers--oh, it was beautiful!

Unfortunately, Me didn't turn into a commercial success, nor did it turn into the legendary album Memphis would become. In the liner notes for the The Dusty Springfield Anthology, Rob Hoerburger, who said Me's songwriting "wasn't quite up to the mastery of the Memphis set" (um, bullshit?), suggested that it's "after-hours music made by musicians for one another's sake," with "the Philly boys uncoiling their sweet grooves and insistent riffs, and Dusty singing, shoes off, hair down, make-up smudged, a couple of drinks past midnight, landing in that place somewhere between sobriety and inebriation where you can't help bumping into your true self."

My question: What the hell is wrong with that?

The ironic kick in the ass is that's the feeling Lynne brings across beautifully on Lovin'. There isn't a performer who wears her heartache more vividly than Lynne, and she revives these tunes as boozy ballads for the lost and lovelorn. She sings tunes like "Anyone Who Had a Heart" and "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" with all the sad, spurned melancholy of a gal singing and twirling around in her living room, glass of wine in one hand, framed picture of her man in the other, wondering where it all went wrong while the words help ease the pain.

So you'd think a gal like Lynne would be all over tracks from Me. Well, not exactly. "Well, Dusty had a huge catalog, a huge career, and I can only cut so many," she says, admitting she isn't that familiar with the album. "And I really cut the songs that I really like the most."

Damn.

I'm sure Lynne has had many nutcases like me griping and sniping at her for not doing this song or that song, so I won't bother her anymore with it. Besides, it was her album to make. It's still good, so I'm not even that pissed about it.

But I still think when she comes to Philly, Lynne should hit up Kenny Gamble's house. And they should rap about the time Dusty Springfield came to town.

Sat., April 5, 8pm. $25. With David McMillin. Trocadero, 1003 Arch St. 215.922.LIVE. www.thetroc.com

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