Shelby Lynne says she’s mediocre, at best, at playing most instruments.

So it was no small challenge when her manager suggested she play all the instruments on her latest album, “Revelation Road.” During a career that’s spanned more than 20 years and earned her fans beyond her country roots, Lynne’s great strengths have been her ability to write and deliver a song.

When “Revelation Road” was released last October, it proved the old music-biz adage that the song is everything. Lynne’s instrumental arrangements may seem a little simple, a little spare, but the songs still deliver the quiet power and melodic serenity for which she’s known.

Lynne said the trick for her was trying something new, but not trying to be too perfect at it.

“I tried to not get too deep into it, not to do too much, since I’m mediocre at best at all the instruments,” said Lynne, 43. “It was just something interesting to do.

“When my manager suggested it, I said, ‘Why not?’ I have all the means, studio space, instruments sitting around. I just had to make sure whatever I did (with instruments) was in service of the song, that the song had what it needed to be delivered.”

Lynne will be delivering songs, by whatever means necessary, when she plays an intimate show at Portland’s One Longfellow Square tonight. Wisconsin-born singer-songwriter Jeffrey Foucault is scheduled to open the evening.

Although Lynne is often called a country artist and has won country music honors, she doesn’t consider herself a country singer — just a singer and songwriter. If somebody listened to “Revelation Road” without knowing much about her, they might detect hints of country — a twangy guitar here, a lyric reference to Bob Wills there — but overall, the sound is not easy to categorize.

“I just make music, man,” said Lynne, who lives in southern California. “I think categories are death to art.”

Every track on Lynne’s recent album is a little different, though not so much that they don’t work together to make the album cohesive. The title track from “Revelation Road” has a dreamy sound with a slight echo, almost like something Chris Isaak would do. “Even Angels” has a slight doo-wop touch in the vocals, while “Lead Me Love” is sort of jazzy. (In fact, the album placed highest — No. 6 — not on the Billboard country album chart, but the folk album chart.)

Besides playing all the instruments, Lynne sings all her own backing vocals on the album as well.

Lynne grew up in rural southern Alabama, and her website talks about how she sang three-part harmonies with her mother and sister on car trips to school. Her website bio quickly jumps to Lynne setting her sights on a music career as a teenager and marrying her high school sweetheart before heading off to Nashville.

According to published reports, when Lynne was 17, her father, who was reportedly an abusive drinker, shot and killed Lynne’s mother before killing himself.

Lynne pressed on in Nashville, getting a record deal and releasing an album by the time she was 21. She was named Top New Female Vocalist by the Academy of Country Music in 1990. Ten years and several albums later, she won a Best New Artist Grammy Award — in 2000.

Since then, Lynne has expanded into film with her role as Johnny Cash’s mother in “Walk the Line” in 2005. And she made a critically acclaimed cover album of Dusty Springfield’s songs, “Just a Little Lovin’,” in 2008. But she says she won’t make another cover album, for fear of becoming “a jukebox.”

Lynne says she won’t have time for sightseeing or recreation while in Maine, but if she did, she’d go fishing. She loves all kinds of fishing — fly fishing, deep sea, you name it.

“Once I retire, that’s what I’m going to do — a lot of fishing,” she said.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @RayRouthier


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