She was only eighteen years old when she scored a major label record deal, but Shelby Lynne had already had enough life experience to be a convincing singer of harrowing, heartbreaking country songs.
Born Shelby Lynn Moorer in 1968, she grew up in a musical family. Her father was a bandleader and her mother often sang harmony with him on stage. On some nights, Shelby and her little sister Allison would join them on the stage. However, her dad struggled with alcoholism, and it fueled his explosive violence at home. When Shelby was only seventeen years old, her father demanded to speak to her mother in the driveway of their home. He then fatally shot her, then turned the gun on himself.
The shocking tragedy left Shelby alone to support herself and younger sister, so she turned to something she knew how to do well: music. The two sisters moved to Nashville, and Shelby started to play the local clubs. Through a lucky break, she scored a performance slot on the nightly cable variety show Nashville Now. Her impressive performance made such an immediate impact that she had four major labels offering to sign her the very next day.
As she prepared her debut album for Epic Records, George Jones invited her to sing on a duet project. The cut, “If I Could Bottle This Up,” was released as a single and went to #43, marking Lynne’s formal introduction to country radio. Her powerhouse vocals stunned critics, but all three of her Epic albums would struggle at radio. Despite an encouraging run with the second album Tough All Over, which produced two top thirty hits and laid the groundwork for her ACM Top New Female Vocalist trophy in 1991, she never quite made the commercial breakthrough everybody assumed she would.
Undaunted, Lynne went indie. She released the swing-country collection Temptation for Morgan Creek records in 1993. It was her best-reviewed album to that point, even topping Robert K. Oermann’s list of the Best Country Albums of 1993. Two years later, she paired up with producer Brent Maher and made the appropriately titled Restless for Curb Records, which found her experimenting with different musical styles.
Then Lynne laid low for a couple of years. She moved out to California, and when she resurfaced in 2000, it was with the blues-flavored I Am Shelby Lynne. It became her most well-received project ever, introducing her to an entirely new audience. The enthusiasm bubbled over into the following year’s Grammy ceremony, where Lynne defeated new acts like Brad Paisley and Jill Scott for the Best New Artist trophy. True to her defiant, self-deprecating form, she noted the humor in winning such an award twelve years and six albums into her recording career.
Lynne didn’t exactly build on her new notoriety with her follow-up album, Love, Shelby, which was a baffling pop project produced by Glen Ballard. But she earned good notes for her next two projects, Identity Crisis and Suit Yourself. She made a splash on the big screen portraying Johnny Cash’s mother in the biopic Walk the Line.
Earlier this year, she produced one of the finest albums of her career, Just a Little Lovin’, which finds her channeling Dusty Springfield, along with covering a good chunk of her catalog. She also contributed to little sister Allison Moorer’s latest album as a songwriter, and teamed up with Big Bad Voodoo Daddy on a Dean Martin tribute album. As unpredictable as ever, it’s anybody’s guess what Lynne will be singing next, but it can be assumed that she’ll do it well.
- “I’ll Lie Myself to Sleep,” 1990
- “Things are Tough All Over,” 1990
- “What About the Love We Made,” 1991
- “Gotta Get Back,” 2000
- “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” 2007
- Tough All Over (1990)
- Temptation (1993)
- I am Shelby Lynne (2000)
- Identity Crisis (2003)
- Just a Little Lovin’ (2008)
- ACM Top New Female Vocalist, 1991
- Grammy: Best New Artist, 2001