Plays Well With Others
(Single Lock Records)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Pensive, brooding, dark …
Those and similar adjectives have described Nashville based singer-songwriter Lera Lynn’s three previous albums.
On this appropriately titled set she not only duets with a handful of artists she respects, but co-writes original material with most of them. As for the darkness, well that’s ingrained in Lynn’s M.O. After all, she got her big break as the broken down bar folk chanteuse in melodramatic scenes of season two’s True Detective.
Lynn invites eight singer-songwriters to perform nine (mostly) originals, recorded live with acoustic instruments in John Paul White’s Florence, Alabama studio. White is the only artist featured on more than one track, including a bittersweet version of the country classic weeper of lust and temptation “Almost Persuaded.” From up-and-coming names like Andrew Combs and Dylan LeBlanc to more established ones such as White, Rodney Crowell, JD McPherson and Shovels and Rope, there is an artistic synergy and camaraderie with Lynn that transcends the typical guest vocalist star appearances.
The songs are varied but stick to a low-mid boil. Some like the bluesy “Breakdown” are mostly Lynn solo takes, with co-writer Combs’ mixed so low he’s practically nonexistent. The same holds for LeBlanc’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it vocal on the sorrowful “What Is Love.” But when her duet partner is more prominent, taking a full solo verse as JD McPherson does on “Nothing To Do With Your Love,” and especially Rodney Crowell’s participation in “Crimson Underground,” the performances are particularly moving. Many are stripped down, but “Wolf Like Me,” the collaboration with Shovels & Rope, uses soft, rhythmic dynamics to riveting effect. Nicole Atkins pushes Lynn down Roy Orbison’s retro shimmering road with stunning results. It makes you yearn for a full album from these two.
At just over 30 minutes, this is too short by half, and with songs about lost, fading and unrequited love, it won’t shake Lynn’s existing dark façade. But every tune is a keeper, and like the best artists, she leaves you wanting more.