Shelby Lynne – Revelation Road (Deluxe Edition) (review)

Shelby Lynne – Revelation Road – Deluxe Edition (Everso) review

Typically, by the time an artist writes, records, and then begins to promote an album, they’re already well on their way to their next project.  But, Revelation Road isn’t a typical record for Shelby Lynne: it’s a deeply personal affair, where she tackled many of her demons of the past head on.  We compared it to both John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band and McCartney’s debut in our initial review back in 2011 – Lennon in its catharsis, McCartney in its stone-cold individuality – she played all the instruments herself.

So, no one will fault her for choosing to dwell a little longer on it with Revelation Road Deluxe Edition, a set that digs even deeper into the project, featuring songs that were left off the original album, a live DVD filmed in England, an audio-only acoustic show at McCabe’s Guitar Shop, and even a documentary on the making of the album.

First, the extra tracks here not only stand up to the already-released material – they’re so good, it makes you wonder why any of them were left off the proper album.  Though Lynne is considered primarily a country singer, she lays down a bone-chilling acoustic blues on “That’s What It Means.”  These songs, with just her voice and guitar, are laid threadbare, leaving nothing to hide behind.  “It Ain’t Your Land Mama” showcases some very soulful singing.  And, Lynne has gotten better on guitar as well –  “Between the Rows” features some surprising lead licks.  She’s included a few acoustic versions of songs already on Revelation Road.  “Heaven’s Only Days Down the Road,” the harrowing story of Lynne’s parents’ murder/suicide is almost too much to bear in this acoustic rendition.

The set comes with a short documentary, “The Making of Revelation Road,” which shows just how intimate this recording process really was.  As we see scenes of Lynne’s dogs crawling over her while she’s trying to nail a guitar part, we realize that this is done at her home studio.  The only other person present is her engineer. Everything else is her. It’s one thing to read that Lynne played all the instruments on this album.  It’s another thing entirely to watch her lay all those instruments down. There’s a part where she’s having trouble with a vocal for “You and Me,” gets exacerbated, stomps her feet and says “fuck it.” It’s something that happens to all recording musicians, but very few are candid enough to let us witness. Toward the end of the documentary, we hear Lynne’s angelic voice, echoed from another room.  As the camera follows the music down the hall, we find her sitting at her desk, ball cap covering her curly blonde hair, strumming “Even Angels.”  And, we envy the dogs who get to hear this sort of beautiful music on a daily basis.

There are two live performances here, sharing similar setlists, yet each show has some very unique qualities.  The McCabe’s performance is audio-only – yet it’s the better of the two.  It’s intimate, and sounds like only a few hundred people at best in a cozy backroom.  The music and vocals are upfront, it’s like you’re in the room with her.  The way she holds out the word “June” during the third verse of “Johnny Met June” at the 1:47 mark is a thing of beauty.  She covers the majority of the songs from her new album, while also digging back into her rich catalog of material.  “Jesus on a Greyhound” really benefits from the stark treatment – originally appearing on the over-produced Love, Shelby, it sounded like a cross between Aerosmith and Alanis Morrisette.  Here, unembellished, the song is much more potent.  Lynne has actually become a better singer.  For evidence, check out her reading of “Leavin’” which originally appeared on her Grammy-winning I Am Shelby Lynne, from 2000.  But, while that version has a very smoky, spoken-word delivery, here her voice soars, imparting more pain, but also showing strength that she’ll make it no matter what.

The DVD was filmed in London’s Union Chapel, an old church from the 1800’s, in front of several thousand people.  Lynne seems more reverent in this once-holy place, saying “all those blacktop highways I drove with Mama and Sissy learning how to sing in the car got me to London, England tonight, so thank you.”  Her soaring voice fills the rafters of this old building, adding to the ambience.  It’s interesting to hear some tracks from her studio albums, like “Your Lies,” stripped down to their bare essence.  Even though it’s just her and a guitar onstage, she is still mesmerizing.

The deluxe set also comes with a booklet featuring lyrics to all the songs on Revelation Road.  And, while in interviews, Lynne is usually reluctant to delve into the meaning behind her lyrics, here she gives background into several of them.  While most “deluxe editions” are simply excuses to make you re-purchase what you already have, this set is a treasure trove for any fan of her music.

Shelby Lynne continues to show incredible growth as an artist with each new release – something seldom seen in a singer over 40.  Revelation Road – Deluxe Edition gives us the opportunity to focus a little closer on just how far she’s come.   –Tony Peters