Mercury - 2001 - 42 minutes

Shelby Lynne spent the late 80s and early 90s as just another commodity in the Nashville factory. Label bosses couldn't figure out what to do with her. It seems Lynne just went along with their confusion and the result was three albums which flitted between styles and did nothing sales wise. After eight years off Lynne re-appeared in 1999 with her 'freedom' album 'I Am Shelby Lynne', a record which saw her escape those dodgy hairdo memories and turn in her own throaty mix of soul and country grit. It was one of the albums of the year (debuts even if you ignore what went before it) and set Lynne up as a singer with a lot of heart.

Now we have 'Love, Shelby' an album which by its title, suggests Lynne is far happier and comfortable with herself these days. Too comfortable - instead of trying to up the ante she has played it safe, creating a bland offering with flashes of greatness. One of the biggest problems with 'Love, Shelby' is her choice of producer, whereas its predecessor had the talents of Bill Bottrell (the man who helped turn Sheryl Crow from session singer to star with 'Tuesday Night Music Club') at the controls, this album goes for Glen Ballard, who counts, Alanis Morrisette, No Doubt and (later day) Aerosmith amongst his paying clients. The result is a sound that tends to smother Lynne in overdone, glossed arrangements.

It begins in fine fashion with 'Trust Me', one of the last throw of the dice stories that Lynne excels at and which promises much for the rest of the record. Then comes 'Bend', the album's strongest, sexiest song which features a loungey hip-hop beat as she encourages someone to take the long walk across the dancefloor. But then you're ushered into the country by 'Jesus on a Greyhound' and 'Wall In Your Heart', a leftover version of Aerosmith's 'Hole in My Soul' with Ballard's fingerprints all over it.

Worse is to come with 'Ain't It The Truth', a pub version of 'Mustang Sally' which you can see on the soundtrack to a film with Patrick Swayze sporting a mullet and crotch destroying jeans. 'I Can't Wait' finds her doing the time warp into 80's ballad territory and as the song closes with just an acoustic guitar and Lynne's voice it's almost as if she gives you a glimpse of how the song could have been.

With those four songs out of the way, Lynne catches herself on and the album improves with the end of the evening romance of 'Tarpaulin Napoleon' and the big single 'Killin' Kind'. It dips again with the by-the-numbers loneliness of 'All of a Sudden You Disappeared' before ending on the highest note with her version of John Lennnon's 'Mother', Lynne mixing denim rock and Dido to heart wrenching effect.

Some great songs, some guaranteed hit singles and lots of filler. In a bid to make Lynne bigger it seems that people have tried to hide what made her special in the first place. She needs a producer like Rick Rubin or Bill Calahan from Smog (think about it...) to strip all the arrangements down and get her back to the real - otherwise she's just trying on a different style of musical straightjacket.

Harry Guerin

Tracklisting: Trust Me - Bend - Jesus on a Greyhound - Wall In Your Heart - Ain't It The Truth - I Can't Wait - Tarpoleon Napoleon - Killin' Kind – All of a Sudden You Disappeared – Mother