"State of Mind"
So cozy and uncluttered that it sometimes sounds more like a living room session than a studio recording, "Suit Yourself" should suit most Shelby Lynne fans just fine.
Credit the album's relaxed tone and intimate settings to Lynne's hands-off approach to self-producing. The alt-country thrush recorded rough takes at home, then completed the tracks in a Nashville studio with the help of some like-minded musicians, including former Wallflowers guitarist Michael Ward and Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench. The most notable guest is veteran songwriter Tony Joe White, who plays guitar and contributes two of the album's indisputable highlights: the bittersweet lament "Old Times Sake" and the perennial "Rainy Night in Georgia." Both tunes are in perfect sync with Lynne's low-key ambitions, but the latter song, titled "Track 12" here, receives a particularly haunting interpretation that brings the album to a hushed close.
Mostly, though, Lynne sings what she writes. Her best lyrics are as heartfelt as they are uncomplicated: the languid and blue musing "I Cry Everyday," which initially sounds like a studio outtake; "Sleep," an insomniac's prayer; and "Johnny Met June," a softly strummed fable inspired by the death of Johnny Cash. The results, far more often than not, present Lynne's talents in a subdued and soulful light.
Had New York-based singer-songwriter and guitarist Raul Midon been around 30 years ago, he probably would have done all right for himself, competing for airplay with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, James Taylor and Jose Feliciano. What he shares with those artists is an innate musicality that shines right through "State of Mind," a 13-track collection of self-penned and unabashedly melodic tunes.
Midon gets a helping hand from uber-producer Arif Mardin and guests Wonder and Jason Mraz, along with several jazz artists. But he's nothing if not self-reliant, boasting a tuneful, rather Wonderlike croon and a percussive guitar style that reflects pop, flamenco and Latin jazz influences. True, he also plays the "mouth trumpet," but there's nothing the least bit gimmicky about his song craft or his engaging flair for melding pop and jazz sounds. His lyrics often have an inspirational slant that appears utterly sincere -- the album's title cut and the Mraz duet "Keep on Hoping" establish a positive tone early on -- and his tribute to the late tunesmith Donny Hathaway, an obvious role model, makes for a wonderfully apt interlude.
-- Mike Joyce
Appearing Monday at the Birchmere.