December 5, 2008
Dusty Springfield portrayed sexual longing and soulful intensity in a thrilling manner. Her nakedly honest songs seemed to be a survival mechanism. If she couldn’t speak her candid truths, she may have collapsed under the weight of her fierce yearnings.
In Springfield, Shelby Lynne has found a kindred spirit. There lies an undercurrent of loneliness that links them, a trait that instills their songs with a sense of gravity. To retain some semblance of privacy for their deeply-felt personal pain, they’ve channeled their anguish into moving musical statements. And given the comparable arc of their broken hearts (and for that matter, their careers), Just a Little Lovin’, Lynne’s collection of Springfield covers, seems like an inevitability that has finally come to fruition. Neither woman could be defined as conventional, and neither has shied away from minor acts of rebellion.
Springfield inspired ire in a number of record executives, who blanched at her obsession for perfection in the recording studio. And although she was a leading light in the British pop invasion of the 1960s, widespread fame proved elusive for the elegant songstress. Lynne’s albums have been equally fussed over; her bouts with Nashville gatekeepers in the early ’90s caused her to chuck her Music Row dreams and satisfy her creative desires in near anonymity. Her 2001 Grammy for Best New Artist (more than a decade after her debut) was an aberration in a career that’s remained mostly invisible to the general public.
Given the artistic freedom often reserved only for those who toil in obscurity, Lynne (with a little nudge from Barry Manilow) chose to bring Springfield’s desperately passionate songs into sharp focus. Just a Little Lovin’ is a convincing reconstruction that focuses on the vagaries of romance as Lynne probes the adventurous side of the Springfield catalog. One indiscreet revelation after another, Lynne revels in the lush tones and impulsive laments that were Springfield’s calling card. She chooses underexposed songs (“Son of a Preacher Man” is absent), and producer Phil Ramone lets Lynne’s plaintive vocals breathe by slowing things down to a crawl. There are no bold, brash moves; the mood is simply understated elegance, with spare guitar strumming and the gentle hush of a piano surrounding most of the songs. It’s a fresh, but faithful, makeover from the sultry Lynne, a singer whose tense, heartbroken style is eerily similar to the languid rhythms uncovered in Springfield’s voice.
Springfield’s Memphis work is the main subject of Just a Little Lovin’. Lynne selected four tracks from the famous Dusty in Memphis. The best, Randy Newman’s “I Don’t Want to Hear It Anymore,” is a pure wonder. As Lynne ponders a loveless relationship, she’s constantly reminded of its impending demise by the gossip swirling around her. Feeling the tremors beneath her feet (“The talk is so loud, and the walls are much too thin”), she braces for the final moments of a troubled affair. What follows is the fallout: “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” a stripped-down chronicle of isolation, and ultimately, defiance.
Just a Little Lovin’ revolves around a woman who’s logged a few miles on love’s twisting road. Feeling dejected, she settles for immediate bliss rather than permanent rapture. “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” finds Lynne aching to fulfill her physical desires, begging her lover to “just be close at hand” should the mood strike her. The title cut is a confident declaration of this constant craving, and a pair of morning-after memoirs, “The Look of Love” and “Breakfast in Bed” are also a delicious treat. With romantic fulfillment a distant dream, a one-night stand is her next ideal notion. Before one questions this as a long-term situation, the light percussion slowly descends into the silence, and a new song (and a new day) begins.
On Just a Little Lovin’, Lynne spreads the gospel of Springfield’s career, welcoming the challenge of capturing both her tender and tumultuous moments. It’s ultimately a valentine to a progressive force who refused to conform to the musical standards of her time. This is no mere carbon copy of her best stuff, though; it’s a show of respect that displays an astounding sense of perspective. Daring to release an album of remakes is always a dangerous task, but Lynne’s addition to this legacy is a quiet stunner.