Revelation Road is a stark album with all instrumentations and vocals by Shelby Lynne. It was made in the confines of her home studio. Originally released in 2011, Revelation Road is one of the most singular and gripping albums so far this decade.
Lynne recently re-released Revelation Road in a box edition with new outtakes, alternates, and a DVD. I haven’t heard that version. But over the past 18 months I’ve listened many times to the original CD and wouldn’t want to change anything about it. The album builds up a particular tension in its original 11-song form in a way I’ve not heard anywhere else.
Lynne consciously draws on the family trauma that occurred at her home when she was 17. One fateful day her father shot and killed her mother and then himself within the hearing of Shelby and her sister Allison. The sisters moved in with relatives. About a year later, Shelby appeared on TNN and got a recording contract with Epic Records. After making a lot of country records in Nashville in the 1990s, Lynne pulled up roots and moved to Southern California.
Lynne’s favorite songwriters are Chuck Berry, Kris Kristofferson, and Joni Mitchell. It’s easy to understand why. From Berry she got roots rock’n’roll, from Kristofferson deceptively simple country, and from Mitchell contemporary introspective songwriting. Additionally, each of these songwriters is verbally adroit, real wordsmiths.
In 1999, Lynne displayed many songwriting influences on her classic Grammy award-winning album I Am Shelby Lynne, an indispensable CD to her fans. These days she pursues a more indie course for her career.
In Revelation Road, Lynne brings us into her melancholy world, allowing her sadness to touch us. The opening song, “Revelation Road” sets the mood, suggesting the story to unfold will have biblical proportions. “I’ll Hold Your Head” builds on that mood and introduces us to two young girls and their Mama. The song interweaves both the very dark and the very precious moments. At one point background harmonizing of the old pop song “Side by Side,” (“Oh we ain’t got a barrel of money, maybe we’re ragged and funny…”) adds a sense of family togetherness on a car ride.
The tension that builds over the next few songs is finally realized with the tenth song, “Heaven is Down the Road.” It ends with the muffled sound of two gunshots. The album’s closer, “Toss It All Aside,” is a song that Lynne has said in an interview was written years earlier and was “probably a subconscious thing about Mama and Daddy.”
In an interview with the website Songfacts, Lynne was asked if writing these songs was cathartic. She replied
“Well, more than anything, I want to write good songs. And in my experience in writing songs I’ve found that the more honest and personal they are, the more people like them. People respond to honesty more than any other thing. So I get more enjoyment out of the creative sense of it than, say, the emotional sense of it, if that answers your question. I’m not really into cathartic, I’m into making creative work.”
Here is “I’ll Hold Your Head,” from Shelby Lynne’s performance DVD.