Saturday, February 02, 2008

Celebrating Dusty

London Diva, Memphis Belle:
Dusty Springfield, circa 1968.

I haven’t bought any new music in quite some time, but Just A Little Lovin’, the latest album from Shelby Lynne, might well be my next purchase.

Not that the songs on this album are actually “new.” All but one were recorded by the late, great British vocalist,
Dusty Springfield (1939-1999), with four of them coming from the singer’s revered Dusty in Memphis set of 1968. Lynne’s latest release is thus a tribute album of sorts. Or, better still, an “inspired by Dusty” album.

Regular visitors to The Wild Reed would know that Dusty Springfield is one of my favorite singers (she even features in a homily I once delivered!). Needless to say, I’m very curious about Shelby Lynne’s reinterpretation of some of Dusty’s greatest songs, especially after reading Thom Jurek’s glowing review of Just A Little Lovin’. (See excerpts below.)

According to Jurek, Lynne’s album is “perhaps the finest tribute in song Springfield has ever received . . . [and in a manner] not only fitting, but celebratory”

A Review of Shelby Lynne’s album,
Just A Little Lovin’

By Thom Jurek
February 2008

Shelby Lynne’s first record in two-and-a-half years [pays] homage to the late Dusty Springfield. Nine of its ten cuts are inextricably linked with the legendary British vocalist.

Perhaps the first thing to make the listener aware of is that Lynne makes no attempt to sound like her subject. She is a singer with her own phrasing, manner of articulation, and sense of rhythm. Therefore, her choice of material is one that best represents [Dusty’s] diversity. Four cuts that appear here come from the Dusty in Memphis period, as well as the title track to The Look of Love and some of her mid-’60s hits from Great Britain that were not originally released in America, like the single version of the Rascals’ “How Can I Be Sure.” But all of these tracks, with the exception of the self-penned “Pretend,” were graced by the voice of Springfield.

This was a daunting task. And one Lynne took seriously. Recorded in the Capitol Records Studio with Frank Sinatra’s legendary microphone as well as the equally legendary producer Phil Ramone, Lynne knew what to leave out as well as what to include. While most singers will automatically shoot for “Son of a Preacher Man,” Lynne steers clear, knowing it’s one of those tunes that should never be covered again.

She does, however, tackle “Just a Little Lovin’,” “Breakfast in Bed,” “Willie and Laura Mae Jones,” and “I Don't Want to Hear It Anymore,” from the Dusty in Memphis set. Lynne’s versions of these songs are closer, steamier perhaps, and are deeply intimate versions. They’re understated while keeping their sensual feel. Ramone understood the strength in Lynne’s phrasing from the word go. The band is small, with guitarist Dean Parks, Rob Mathes on keyboards, drummer Gregg Field, and bassist Kevin Axt (who plays upright as well as electric). Curt Bisquera guests on drums on two tracks. The “Southern” in Lynne’s delivery doesn’t carry these songs into the stratosphere, but it does take them deep into the belly of the listener.

The taut, easy sensuality in her singing adds a different kind of depth and dimension to these tunes. When Lynne gets to the in-the-pocket feel of “Breakfast in Bed,” written by Donnie Fritts and the late, great Eddie Hinton, she comes toward the tune’s subject not so much with innocent empathy and tenderness as with a much rawer acknowledgment of what’s needed, and without the trace of the vulnerable in Springfield’s song. It’s simply awesome.

“Willie and Laura Mae Jones,” by Tony Joe White has got that rough, swampy, acoustic earthiness in it, and Lynne adds her guitar to the sparse, slow growl in Ramone’s and engineer Al Schmitt’s mix. This tune about interracial love was written by White and recorded by Springfield when the subject was taboo in America. Springfield made a song like this palatable, with that slight British accent and her incredible phrasing and delivery: if she was singing it, it had to be innocent, right? Lynne gets at White’s lyric with all the blues and rumbling toughness without having to push anything into the red. The way the song fades before the tale ends is a wonderful touch.

Randy Newman’s “I Don’t Want to Hear It Anymore” carries inside it the trace of both the South and Lynne’s adopted West Coast home. She can tell this ambivalent, heartbreaking tale as if it were her own, all the while uncannily recalling Springfield’s empathy and grace.

Other signature pieces of Springfield’s, such as “I Only Want to Be with You,” are treated very differently. The poppy, bubbly Springfield version (she was in her 20s when she cut it) is slower, and has the feeling of new love from a protagonist who never expected it. There’s genuine surprise in it, as well as surrender, as if this conversation is really one the singer is having in the mirror. The piano and Parks’ lush, acoustic guitar lines with their jazz feel entwine perfectly. It’s sparse and elegant, and Lynne’s got just the hint of vulnerability in the slightly smoky grain of her voice.

“The Look of Love” is executed wonderfully here. It’s a daunting song for anyone, and Springfield’s version has remained unchallenged for more than 40 years. Lynne doesn’t challenge it at all. She doesn’t overdo it, but instead offers tribute by trying to read this song in a very different way. In her own way, which she acknowledges fully in the reading, she has been deeply influenced by Springfield. She lets the instruments lead along her, holding herself back and letting the emotion come through the words as they occur to her. It’s not as sultry as Springfield’s, but feels very honest, truthful. There’s a boldness in it that has more to do with an embrace of being overwhelmed by anticipation.

The other Bacharach/David cut here, “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” has to be heard to appreciate the uniqueness of Lynne’s interpretation. It’s not upside down, but more a tracing of Springfield’s version, like a mirror image, and the brushed snares, twinned melody lines between guitar and piano, and that solidly paced bassline turn this waltz into a haunted love song of the highest order.

“How Can I Be Sure” is simply startling: Lynne sings it accompanied only by Parks on acoustic guitar. No swirling strings, no squeeze box, no popping snares. It’s radical, but it’s a fitting closer to this fine set

Lynne’s own entry here is a very classy if desperate pop song; it’s treated especially sparsely. Lynne’s channeling Springfield on it, because there is that pronounced vulnerability in this song that the late singer put into everything she did, but it’s radical coming from Lynne, who lays it on the line – usually with a swagger.

Just a Little Lovin’ is perhaps the finest tribute in song Springfield has ever received, at least on tape. That such a fine singer and songwriter has interpreted her in such an empathic, respectful, canny, and sophisticated manner is not only fitting, but celebratory.

To read Tom Jurek’s review of Shelby Lynne’s Just A Little Lovin’ in its entirety, click here.


Following are two clips courtesy of YouTube. The first is of Dusty Springfield performing her first hit song, 1963’s “I Only Want To Be With You.” The second is an audio clip of Shelby Lynne's version of this same song. Enjoy!

For more of Dusty at The Wild Reed, visit:
Remembering a Great Soul Singer
Classic Dusty
Yeah, Baby, Yeah!
Soul Deep

Recommended Off-site Links:
Shelby Lynne’s Dusty Trail - Rob Hoerburger, New York Times Magazine, January 13, 2008.
Dusty Rides Again - Rob Hoerburger, New York Times Magazine, October 29, 1995.
Woman of Repute (my website dedicated to Dusty Springfield).
The Making of Dusty in Memphis - Michael Bayly, Woman of Repute.
The Invention of Dusty Springfield - Adam Sweeting,
The Independent, March 26, 2006.
In Private - Peter Doggett,
Record Collector, May 1999.

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