In theory, music reviewers approach every new album as a piece of freshly created art, with no preconceptions about the quality of what they are about to hear. And if you believe that, I have a stupendous new Christmas album from Barry Manilow to sell you. The reality is that we bring all kinds of preconceptions and life experiences to the proceedings, and sometimes they mess with the music. Sometimes it’s impossible to hear the new notes because of the racket from the past that is playing in our heads.
Take Shelby Lynne as a case in point. Shelby Lynne is a fine singer and songwriter, and I’ve enjoyed her previous albums, which have featured a heady mixture of counry, folk, blues, and Southern soul. But when I heard that Shelby Lynne was going to release a covers album featuring the songs of Dusty Springfield, the alarm bells went off in my head. Dusty Springfield meant Burt Bacharach, and Burt Bacharach is the single most wretched songwriter in the universe. Yeah, I know. A lot of people love Burt Bacharach. He’s in the Songwriters Hall of Fame, an award that is mystifying on several fronts, not only because he’s the King of Schlock, but also because he was almost always paired with a lyricist who routinely came up with gems like “Why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near,” a sentiment so ludicrous that I want to sic Alfred Hitchcock on him every time I hear it. The roster of singers who have had hits with Burt Bacharach songs is enough to send me into a full-fledged depression: Dionne Warwick, Christopher Cross, Neil Diamond, B.J. Thomas, The Carpenters, The 5th Dimension, Perry Como, Tom Jones, and Herb Alpert. And yes, Dusty Springfield, who made the most of the mediocre material. But, by and large, it would be difficult to come up with a more wretched list of “artists” to represent what is, or has ever been, wrong with popular music.
So, back to Shelby. It’s possible that Shelby’s new album, Just a Little Lovin’, really isn’t a ploy for future work in Vegas if this singer/songwriter thing doesn’t pan out. But I can’t really hear her. The din is too loud in my head.