Shelby Lynne has always had a way of turning heartache into beauty, but on Revelation Road, she faces straight-on the traumatic childhood and harrowing event that shaped her adult life: her parents’ murder-suicide.
Through gorgeous ballads and deceptively upbeat tracks, she offers candid confessions about the unique form of suffering no amount of success can ease: the depression that causes low self-esteem, wrecked relationships and thoughts of suicide. Lynne has addressed these issues before, but never with quite this depth. In the title tune, she starts out singing alto and strumming a mandolin, letting the song unwind until she unleashes its passion with call-and-response cries of “Revelation” and the snake-rattle of her tambourine. It’s powerful.
In the exquisite “I’ll Hold Your Head,” she sings of trying to protect her little sister, Allison Moorer, from the anguish aroused by their father’s alcohol-fueled tirades. Her guitar effects change from distant and ethereal to direct acoustic strums as she delivers bluesy lines about soothing the heartache, as big sisters do. Her Dusty Springfield inclinations grace “Even Angels,” “Lead Me Love” — which has a slightly breezy, tropicalia feel — and the elemental “Heaven’s Only Days Down the Road.” But her Southern soul threads through all these cuts; “Woebegone” drags heavy blues chords into gospel-rock territory, her smooth vocals offsetting the roughness of her playing – and her desperation. “I Want to Go Back” is a heartbreaking confessional in which she sings, “I just add to the collection of my broken dreams/And I want to go back so I can run away again.” She follows it with another bluesy piece, the mid-tempo “I Don’t Need a Reason to Cry,” which will make you want to simultaneously hum and cry along as she recites gut-wrenching lines with incredible sweetness. Lynne adds to the woe with “Toss It All Aside,” in which she drops diamonds like “I can’t get you off my devastated state of mind,” like watermelon seeds. It all builds up to “Heaven’s Only …,” in which she inhabits the mind of her crazed father, playing bitter notes as she careens toward its dark, stark ending. She leaves us with a cathartic finish, however, in the perfectly crafted “I Won’t Leave You.” In fact, the entire album — which Lynne did completely on her own — is close to perfection. Her pain is sad, but oh, so sweet. — LYNNE MARGOLIS