“If I Were Smart” – Shelby Lynne

I’ve rarely heard an album as impeccably put together as Shelby Lynne’s breakthrough CD, 2000’s I Am Shelby Lynne. And I’m not one who necessarily likes impeccability as a production value; it’s way too easy to seek precision but end up sounding precious and calculating, not to mention cold and boring. And yet the precisely effective choices that were made across the board, song by song, on that wonderful CD, gave the album a warm and inviting sheen, and turned a collection of nice songs into something lasting and memorable. Her next CD, Love, Shelby, was widely regarded as a misstep, and what I heard of it on the radio kept me away from it (although I will admit I’ve yet to hear the whole thing; hey, no one sends me this stuff, after all!). Her new one, Identity Crisis, is being touted as a return to form, and if this subtle and affecting song is any indication, I believe it.

“Late Bloom” – Amy Ray

Amy Ray’s tough edge is often blunted within her Indigo Girls context; this concise, sparkling rocker lets it out in a guitar-driven melodic burst. The song comes from Ray’s unjustly overlooked 2001 solo CD Stag. You hardly have to be an Indigo Girls fan to like this one, as they’ve never recorded anything quite so electric.

“The Little Things” – Matthew Ryan

Gruff, insistent, minor-key toe-tapper from a Pennsylvania singer/songwriter who has recently released his fourth CD, Regret Over the Wires. Don’t worry, I had never heard of him before either, but this one makes me curious about what I’ve been missing. Both in title and in vibe, the song inevitably reminds me of Paul Kelly’s “Dumb Things,” for those who might remember that lost classic. Consider that a good thing.




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