Before she performed “Leavin’,” the first song she ever wrote, Shelby Lynne had a story to tell to her audience in the Folly Theater.
She’d been living in Nashville for nearly a decade, trying to make a career out of singing other people’s songs. Five albums later, she decided she had things of her own to say and songs to write, so she bought a $40 12-string guitar, headed west and never looked back. “Leavin’” made it on her career-defining “I Am Shelby Lynne” album, a Grammy-winning collection of country-soul songs embellished with strings, horns, keyboards, background vocals and all types of guitars.
Friday night, that song and the rest of her set list took on a different context. Lynne is touring alone, accompanying herself on acoustic guitar. But instead of deflating her songs, the stripped-down versions laid bare her expressive, Southern-soulful voice and her lyrics, which express the joys and sorrows that attend life and its pursuit of love and happiness.
Lynne is no stranger to doing things on her own. She is touring on her most recent album, “Revelation Road,” which she wrote, performed and produced entirely by herself. She played 10 of its 11 tracks, in a show that lasted 90 minutes and comprised nearly two dozen songs.
All night the audience sat rapt and silent. During “Leavin’” and her stunninga cappella
version of “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me,” the room was so still and hushed you could hear yourself breathe.
After each song there was heavy applause and the occasional shouts of approval. None was longer or louder than the ovation she got for the haunting “Heaven’s Only Days Down the Road,” a song written from the perspective of her father, who murdered her mother and killed himself when she was a teenager. After she was done, she stepped back and took a deep breath as applause, cheers and whistles rained upon her.
Lynne isn’t exactly an extrovert, but she developed a rapport with her audience, sharing a story or an aside before or after several songs. Before “Johnny Met June,” she talked about meeting Johnny and June Carter Cash at one of Willie Nelson’s picnics. Before “You Are My Sunshine,” her first encore, she told a story about her grandfather, who bought her first pair of cowboy boots at a rodeo in Jackson, Miss.
She got the crowd to sing along to that one after she restarted it because she was in the wrong key. They sang along also to a few rounds of the chorus to “Where I’m From,” a paean to her native Alabama.
She ended with “Your Lies,” one of her better songs about love in ruins, then “Iced Tea,” a warm gust of hope and love that expresses “bucket loads of gratitude.” The crowd was still with her on that one, listening to all she had to say, down to the last lyric and her final goodbye.