Shelby Lynne is currently in the middle of a U.S. tour during which she offers up every track – in sequence – of two of the most remarkable albums she has ever released. During the second portion of her show, the singer revisits I Am Shelby Lynne, the jazzy, soulful – and totally ballsy – 2000 LP that earned her a Best New Artist Grammy a full decade after her decidedly country debut. But before that, concertgoers will be treated to every song on I Can't Imagine, which was released May 5th on Rounder Records. Her thirteenth release since 1989, the LP combines the easygoing vibe of her current West Coast surroundings with dashes of the sometimes prickly relationship the singer-songwriter has had with her Alabama upbringing (when she's even bothered to look back on it, that is).
Fiercely independent and refreshingly opinionated, Lynne often presents her lyrics — and her thoughts on certain subjects — obliquely, reflecting her vulnerability as both an artist and a notoriously private person. However, with "Down Here," a particular standout from I Can't Imagine, Lynne's dismay at instances of discrimination and homophobia stems from personal observations throughout her childhood and spills out in bursts of anger and defiance by the time she gets to the not-so-subtle line, "Out in the country, out in the hills, out in the country, three-dollar bill." It's a tune that has, quite rightly, drawn comparisons to Neil Young's "Southern Man."
"I get to thinking about the South and how I felt when I was a little kid. Feeling, 'Wow, I am different. I feel it in my heart, and I know that I don't have anything to do with it. I'm being who I am and what I am," Lynne tells Rolling Stone Country of the song that also features the rich, plaintive voice of Clarence Greenwood (a/k/a Citizen Cope). "When you know that and you're eight or nine years old, you start going, 'Well, I have to start acting differently. Because it's obvious what I'm feeling is not really acceptable around here.' So you just start being and becoming who you are and hope and make the best of it. By the time you're an adult and you have a voice, an opinion and a way of life that's your own, you have to be secure in the fact of who you are. That's the whole goal with 'Down Here,' it's just saying you're not alone. So, I'm hoping that song can reach some little Southern child and they can go, 'Goddammit, she feels like I feel.'"
Although Lynne collaborates on a few of the LP's tracks with musicians Ben Peeler and Pete Donnelly, along with Canadian singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith, half of I Can't Imagine's tracks were solo writes.
"I know if I've got one or not; a writer knows, 'Oh I've got this,'" she explains of those tunes, which include "Down Here." "If you put your brain into it, you're just going to have a brain record and who the fuck wants that? I want to be feeling a lot, but not thinking any. That's why my records are such a mess. [Laughs] But I am not going in there without any thought other than to make a fucking stellar record. I don't know what the fuck it's going to be except I've got this song, so let's see what happens to it."
Lynne's tour reaches Nashville on Saturday, May 30th, followed by a stop in Atlanta on May 31st that fans can watch from the comfort of their own living rooms. Through a partnership with Yahoo and Live Nation, the Atlanta show will stream live online, starting at 8:00 p.m. ET this Sunday.