NPR

Shelby Lynne Gives Dusty Her Due

Shelby Lynne's album I Am Shelby Lynne helped win her a Grammy for Best New Artist in 2001, but it was actually her sixth full-length record. Since then, Lynne has put out four more. Her latest, Just a Little Lovin', pays tribute to the late Dusty Springfield with nine covers and one song written by Lynne. Here, she talks about her approach to the songs, her great respect for Springfield, and how much whiskey she had to drink to take on songs originally recorded by her idol.

Lynne says she chose songs from Springfield's repertoire that she could sink her teeth into — the ones she could make her own, respectfully, while keeping Dusty in mind. But never "Son of a Preacher Man." She says there was no way she was going to touch that one.

Even the lesser-known songs made Lynne nervous. The idea of messing with any of Springfield's music had her hitting the flask in the studio: "I drank more whiskey making this record," she says. Her nerves were wracked by making a covers record of songs that everyone loves, by a singer everyone loves. But she says she wasn't scared off: "I knew I had to be somewhat daring, because everybody's heard these songs a million times."

Lynne went for a different sound than Springfield did. The songs in Springfield's era, the 1950s and '60s, were huge — full of horns and strings. So Lynne scaled the music down on her versions and, she says, "let the song do the work."

Other than a general idea, though, she didn't have arrangements in mind before she entered the studio. In fact, she tried not to think about it too much. "My band can tell you, I'd rather do anything than rehearse," she says. "If you think too much about something, you're not feeling it."

The producer Phil Ramone, who's helped make records for Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, and Paul Simon, worked with Lynne on Just a Little Lovin'. Lynne says she felt comfortable in the studio, in a process that took only five days. "If you know what you're going after and you have your list of songs, do it and get out of there," Lynne says.

The one original tune on the album is "Pretend," a song Lynne wrote a while ago but had never released. "I feel like Dusty would have dug it," she says now. Springfield probably would have, as she was always singing about what couldn't be — unrequited love.

Lynne says she has always loved Springfield's singing. "You believed every word she said," Lynne says. "I still believe it."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LIANE HANSEN, host:

Singer Shelby Lynne has released a new CD, but she's no newcomer to the industry. This is her tenth studio album. For her breakthrough 2000 recording, "I Am Shelby Lynne," she was awarded a Best New Artist Grammy. Since then she's explored country, pop and jazz styles with limited success. But her latest effort is generating a lot of excitement.

The Alabama-born Lynne decided to record the songs by a celebrated English singer, Dusty Springfield.

(Soundbite of song, "Son of a Preacher Man")

Ms. DUSTY SPRINGFIELD (Singer): (Singing) Lord knows to my surprise, the only one who could ever reach me was a son of a preacher man. The only boy who could ever teach me was a son of a preacher man. Yes, he was…

HANSEN: That song from the classic 1969 recording "Dusty in Memphis" is not one of the ones Shelby Lynne decided to re-record. But there are plenty of others, including this famous track:

(Soundbite of song, "Just a Little Lovin'")

Ms. SPRINGFIELD: (Singing) Just a little lovin' early in the morning, beats a cup of coffee, for starting off the day

HANSEN: Shelby Lynne's CD is called "Just a Little Lovin'," inspired by Dusty Springfield. And Lynne joins us from Palm Springs, California. Welcome to the program, Shelby.

Ms. SHELBY LYNNE (Singer): Thank you.

HANSEN: Talk a little bit about the approach. Because if I play the open to "Just a Little Lovin'," for example, from "Dusty in Memphis," I mean, the first things we hear are strings. And the album is full of big horns and choruses. And your approach is much different. It's very spare. Was the idea to kind of, if you pardon the pun, wipe the dust off it, take out all those adornments?

Ms. LYNNE: Yeah. You know, and I think when Dusty was making, particularly the Memphis record, there was kind of a trend going on then - every string, every horn, every singer, huge rhythm section. So I had to do something that was the opposite.

(Soundbite of song, "Just a Little Lovin'")

Ms. LYNNE: (Singing) Just a little lovin', early in the morning, beats a cup of coffee, for starting off the day.

And, you know, sometimes if you listen to records from those time, I mean, that's why we love them because they were so huge, huge sounding. But sometimes you forget the song and get so wrapped up in the bigness. So I just kind of scaled it down and let the song do the work.

(Soundbite of song, "Just a Little Lovin'")

Ms. LYNNE: (Singing) This old world wouldn't be half as bad, it wouldn't be half as sad if each and everybody in it had…

HANSEN: Did you have arrangements in mind before you got into the studio or was it done there?

Ms. LYNNE: Absolutely not. I can't imagine doing that. I think that would've caused too much thinking about it. And if you think too much about something, you're not feeling it, and that's just the way I approach music. You know, and my band could tell you, I'd rather do anything than rehearse. So it's -soundcheck's about all we get.

(Soundbite of song, "Willie and Laura Mae Jones")

Unidentified Man: One, two, go…

HANSEN: When I was listening to the cut that you do, "Willie and Laura Mae Jones," there's a real comfortable feel in there. I mean, I feel like I'm almost eavesdropping on you in your living room.

(Soundbite of song, "Willie and Laura Mae Jones")

Ms. LYNNE: (Singing) Willie and Laura Mae Jones were our neighbors a long time back, they lived right down the road from us, in a shack just like our shack…

It really felt that way. You know, the band was so great and, of course, Phil Ramone and Al Schmitt, you know, running the board so, was comfortable. Yeah, really comfortable. I mean, they're such beautiful songs, and a pleasure to sing them.

(Soundbite of song, "Willie and Laura Mae Jones")

Ms. LYNNE: (Singing) The cotton was high and the corn was growing fine, oh, but that was another place, another time. Get over here, junior…

As a singer, you think you know the songs because you've listened to the records so many times. But when you get up to sing them yourself and you're doing a record, they become new again.

HANSEN: There are some differences in terms of the rhythm and the pacing. In the beginning of "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me," you sing it acappella. I mean, man, there's nowhere to hide when you do that.

(Soundbite of song, "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me")

Ms. LYNNE: (Singing) When I said I needed you, you said you would always stay, it wasn't me who changed but you and now you've gone away…

HANSEN: Did it take some adjustment to your own vocal style? I mean, you know, some people characterized you as a belter and this is really, you know, cozy-up-to- the-microphone delivery.

Ms. LYNNE: Uh-huh. Well, in my early days I used to do a lot of belting but then I was missing the song. And then I kind of learned that, you know, save it, use it when you really need to wake up the first row, you know, which happens often.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song, "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me")

Ms. LYNNE: (Singing) No, you don't have to say you love me, just be close at hand, you don't have to stay forever, I will understand. Believe me, believe me, I can't help but love you, and believe me, I will never tie you down…

HANSEN: You did this in five days?

Ms. LYNNE: Mm-hmm. That's enough time in the studio. You know, if you know what you need, you know what you're going after and you have your list of songs, do it and get out of there. That's my way.

HANSEN: How did you decide which songs to do?

Ms. LYNNE: I chose my favorites, and I chose the ones that I really thought I could make my own respectfully on the Dusty level, and could really sink my teeth in them. You know, I felt like they were the best that people would want to hear again and I liked them, too.

(Soundbite of song, "The Look of Love")

Ms. LYNNE: (Singing) The look of love is in your eyes, the look your heart can disguise. The look of love is saying so much more than just words could ever say…

You know, I knew when - I had no idea before I set foot in the studio that when the songs started showing themselves, I knew I had to be somewhat daring because, you know, everybody's heard these songs a million times. It had to be something a little bit crazy. So, you know, and I'm not scared. I go and it's like - if it's scary, it's not scary enough. Let's keep going.

HANSEN: Was there ever a time, though, that you doubted doing an album of cover songs?

Ms. LYNNE: Oh my god. I mean, I drank more whiskey making this record in the studio and just my nerves - every now and then I would break down and hit my flask and say, you must be out of your mind. What are you doing? Number one: you're cutting songs that everybody loves and adores - the original records. Plus it's Dusty Springfield, you idiot. But then I'd drink a little more and it'd be okay.

HANSEN: Yeah. You chose not to do "Preacher Man," and you know…

Ms. LYNNE: Oh no.

HANSEN: I know, I know. And I mean, I know it's kind of a sacred song. But I have to admit, I wanted to hear you do it.

Ms. LYNNE: Well, I'm sorry. Too bad.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: But no way, there was no way you were going to touch that one.

Ms. LYNNE: No way. I mean, you just don't cut "Son of a Preacher Man." That is Dusty's song. I've compared it to cutting "Crazy" by Patsy Cline. You just don't cut that.

HANSEN: You wrote your own song for this and actually listening to it without reading the liner notes, I wouldn't have been able to tell the difference between a song you wrote and a song that was written for Dusty. It's one that's called "Pretend."

(Soundbite of song, "Pretend")

Ms. LYNNE: (Singing) I know you want to leave, been holding on to you, begging you to play this game, you've already won…

HANSEN: Did you write it for this or was this a song you already had?

Ms. LYNNE: I didn't write it for this. "Pretend" has been lying around for a while, and I didn't know what to do with it. And so there, you know. That's the proof that songs happen why they're supposed to happen. And they'll get placed in a, you know, when it's time.

(Soundbite of song, "Pretend")

Ms. LYNNE: (Singing) I'll show you happiness, I'll prove you need my love and I'll bend over backwards to tell you every word you want to hear, whatever you might need to reconsider what I'm giving, say the words. Hurt me one more night just pretend you love me.

I feel like Dusty would've dug it. I think she may have cut it if she'd been looking for songs. I mean, that's kind of what I convince myself of every day.

HANSEN: You know, I bet she would have because the subject matter is consistent. She was always singing about what couldn't be, it seems. You know, you don't have to say you love me just stay, you know, with me. Always being a victim of unrequited love.

Ms. LYNNE: Well, that's part of the reason why I love Dusty Springfield. You believed every word she said. And there was such a vulnerability in her singing and then feeling her feel it. You believed it. And I still believe it.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: Shelby Lynne's new recording on the Lost Highway label is called "Just a Little Lovin'," inspired by Dusty Springfield. Thanks so much.

Ms. LYNNE: Thank you, Liane. It's been a joy.

(Soundbite of song, "I Only Want To Be With You")

Ms. LYNNE: (Singing) I don't know what it is that makes me love you so, I only know I never want to let you go, 'cause you've…

HANSEN: To hear songs from Shelby Lynne's album of Dusty Springfield songs and more interviews with musicians, go to our music Web site, npr.org/music.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Most Popular