Shelby Lynne, Channeling Her Inner Dusty Springfield

Shelby Lynne at the State Theatre hitting the sultry notes just fine.
Shelby Lynne at the State Theatre hitting the sultry notes just fine. (By Joel Richardson For The Washington Post)
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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Shelby Lynne has done time as Nashville's could-have-been Next Big Thing, winning a best-new-artist Grammy in 2001 for, er, her sixth album. Her latest reinvention is as a surrogate Dusty Springfield, complete with a record of songs made famous in the '60s by the iconic British soul chanteuse -- at the suggestion of Barry Manilow, of all people.

At a supper-club-configured State Theatre on Monday night, Lynne opened her intimate 90-minute set with seven of the Springfield numbers before choosing another 10 from her own admirable songbook. Her four-piece band conjured the sultry groove of "Just a Little Lovin' " before Lynne slunk onstage in a sport jacket, jeans and a long scarf. Slowed even from Dusty's already downbeat reading, it was a bold choice to open, and a fine vehicle for Lynne's husky voice -- expressiveness has always trumped precision for her. The crowd didn't appear to be close to a sellout -- your loss, suckers! -- but were respectful and attentive, cheering only after letting the shimmering final note of each ballad hang for a moment in the confines of the faux-candlelit club.

The Quantico-born Lynne maintained the air of stillness through two more emotionally bare numbers, drawing out the rests on "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" for maximum tension. Reaching the sunnier climes of "Breakfast in Bed," she relaxed, finally speaking to the rapt audience. (She'd remain a chatterbox thereafter.) "Twenty years ago when I started making records, they stopped making these," she said, waving a vinyl pressing of her Springfield tribute LP, which she handed to a lucky fan at the foot of the stage. "Do y'all still get records?"

Judging from their roar of approval, this was a seriously analog crowd. So maybe it's no coincidence that all of the advantages that purists claim for vinyl over digital formats -- warmth, depth, richness -- perfectly describe this modest but magical show.

-- Chris Klimek

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