Photo © Jim Marshall
I’m not sure if Shelby would agree to this, but I think that when she became independent of major record labels and just did her own thing, her music went from great to brilliant, and her songwriting and performance got even more soul- and truthful. Maybe it’s the intimacy and style of “Tears, Lies and Alibis” (2010) and “Revelation Road” (2011) – both quite stripped down and acoustic. I don’t know. It could also just be a matter of (my) taste.
I guess she has always been the real deal – raw and tempestuous, and intense. I’ve heard people in the industry talking about her “owning the stage” back in the Nashville western swing-days 20 years ago, but also heard some people say she’s “difficult to handle“. She has a strong personality, that’s for sure.
When I do music compilations at work (or playlists on Spotify), I try to include her music whenever I can. I wish more people would see what I see in her, and that she would no longer be an insiders’ tip.
For those of you who are not acquainted with Shelby’s music I’ve put together a “Shelby for Starters” playlist, see below.
I’ve never met Shelby in person, but her music is like a dear friend to me. The below imaginary conversation is purely fictional.
And by the way: You know you are friend of mine if I bought you a Shelby album for your birthday!
Shelby, hi! I’ve really looked forward to this!
Oh hello, aww who did you say you are again?
It’s Christina. I’m not a journalist and I promise not to ask you about your personal life!
I not happy with this conversation – what is this about?
Oh I thought we could just hang out, would like to get to know you, and maybe become friends. I think we have many things in common…
Sorry Christine, no time today, I’m kinda busy, my new album coming soon and all…
Aww right sorry.
I’m probably not supposed to say this but I’ve listened to your new album quite a few times at work. I work for a record label in Europe.
Oh I thought you were from the south?
I’m just trying to imitate your Alabama accent. Thought you’d feel more comfortable with me then.
Which label do you work for?
Sorry, I don’t talk to major labels, if you know who I am you should know that too. We have to call it off right here!
I’m not in A&R. We are music-loving people in my department, trust me on that. A colleague of mine will work „I Can’t Imagine“. The company I work for distributes Rounder in Europe…
So what do you think? Like it?
I don’t think I’m supposed to say anything in public about the album before the release. Don’t want to get myself into trouble.
Aww come on, I’d like to know what you think.
Ok, but before I say anything, I want you to know that I have a thing for melancholy in music. When it gets sad, I’m 100% in.
I guess you are sitting at the table with the right songwriter, then (laughs).
My favorite songs are “Down Here”, “Love Is Strong” and “Following You”. Killer songs. Citizen Cope’s vocals on “Down Here” give the song even more soul, what a great choice! I also really love the dirty guitars and your sense for understatement. But what else to expect? To me you are one of the best songwriters in the world.
Oh that’s a kind thing to say. Haven’t you heard of John Lennon, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash?
Sure they are great and have set the bar for songwriting, I guess. Still in my opinion there is so much more soul and feeling in your music, at least when you perform yourself; your expression seems truthful and real. Is it perhaps a female thing?
Not many ladies on the All-Time Greatest Songwriters List!
Exactly! You’ll find Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and maybe Dolly Parton. That’s more or less it.
Tell me about this blog of yours “Tears, Lies and Alibis”, are you an artist too?
Oh not at all, I am not particularly creative. I used to think I was great in bed but that was just youthful overestimation (both laugh). My blog is called “Truth, Tears & Rock’n’Roll“ by the way – the name is definitely inspired by your album title, at least from the sound of it. I just like to write about things close to my heart and I am trying to understand the process of music’s impact.
Music sure is a great thing, wouldn’t know what to do without!
In one of your songs you say that singing is a necessity for you?
It definitely is. Music is more or less my life, I’ve been singing since I was a little girl. And that’s a long time ago (laughs).
Should we go for a drink?
I’m not really drinking much these days, but sure, I’ll get my stuff, then let’s hit the road!
Do you think I have an obsessive nature? Sometimes I listen to the same music over and over again, at restaurants I mostly pick the same dish every time. Your music has been on my obsession list for a long time – should you ever get any Spotify penny royalties out of Germany, you know who’s behind (both laugh).
Yeah you do seem quite obsessed to me (laughs). First I thought with me, but now I’m thinking the vodka bottle has taken my place (laughs). You’re hurting my feelings here, baby (both laugh).
The pictures you paint in your songs of childhood and where you grew up – it is so full of warm feeling and respect, I think. The fragility in your voice when you sing it. That blows me away. Anyone knowing how it feels to hurt real bad knows how difficult it is to look beside the anger and despair. I really admire that.
Well I’m all “Three Chords and The Truth“… But now is now, I try to focus on the now, on reality. We’re right here in this moment, right now. You may seem a bit drunk, but everything’s fine, isn’t it? I feel good, don’t ya?
Yeah I do. Can you teach me how to write a song? I can’t play the guitar and I can’t sing, but I could come up with a few lines…
Let me know what you’ve come up with.
Well I’ve been down so goddamn long that it looks like up to me
(Shelby laughs) I know that line, hang on; it’s The Doors from the L.A. Woman album!
Yes, great album, it was recorded in 1971. How about this one:
I’m not sure if I’m mad or mean, these tears I cry could mean anything
Great lines (laughs). Wait, I think I’ve heard them before (laughs). Are you testing me? I don’t remember every word I’ve said, but I remember every line I’ve written (both laugh).
Ok, got one more:
I am passing through the green flat fields
and the small red brick houses
this is my land with its rains and misty air
still waiting for someone to take me out of here
So you’re a country girl? Where you’re from kinda sticks throughout life, doesn’t it?
Oh it does. So you’re up to putting a melody to it? In minor?
(Shelby starts jamming and plays some chords on the guitar. She changes the lyrics a bit and ads a few more lines, writes something down on a wet napkin on the table. She is in her element now, very concentrated although it’s late at night. I just sit and watch her; now and then she looks up and smiles. Her blue eyes have a passionate glow).
Shelby, it’s been so much fun! But I really have to head home, have to go to work in a few hours.
It has, Christina. Let’s do this again sometime. I’ll be touring Europe later this year. And work some more on them lyrics, gal! (both laugh).
We are standing on the street outside the bar. I feel tipsy, she’s not. She gets into a cab, puts the guitar case on her lap, it looks like she is holding it tight. She looks up, blows me a kiss and disappears into the night.