With her head-turning looks and arresting voice, Shelby Lynne landed a record deal almost instantly when she moved to Nashville at age 18, but it was a Faustian bargain that even the devils on Music Row came to regret. As Lynne says in a phone interview from her Palm Springs home, they didn't expect her "rebel bullshit": "They don't need it; they don't have to put up with it. There're too many people in line who will bend over and do what they say. It was kind of a private pact. They agreed to let me go, and we left as friends."
In 2000, the newly liberated singer-songwriter made the Dusty Springfield-style I Am Shelby Lynne, a milestone which landed her a Best New Artist Grammy, six albums and a dozen years into her recording career. It didn't quell her rebellious spirit, however. On the three disparate discs that followed, Lynne has tried to prove that she's a label-free "individual" -- a quintessentially American turn of phrase that she uses for everyone from the White Stripes to Johnny Cash (whose mother she plays in I Walk the Line, an upcoming biopic starring Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix). Her latest, Suit Yourself (Capitol), is a breezy collection of home demos and studio jams, yet it works because she still sounds like the kind of southerner that Faulkner would recognize, one haunted by the past that she's forever trying to escape. "I Won't Die Alone" abstractly hints at the troubles she's seen, which include one she never talks about: the day in her 17th year when she saw her father shoot her mother to death before killing himself.
"I think that's pretty much what it's about -- the past, and how it's kind of like a monkey on your back," Lynne says warily. "There's nothing you can do about it."