Album review: Sisters Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer shine in Not Dark Yet
These days, you can’t simply be content to cover a song – you’re expected to make it your own; to magically reverse engineer it into something new and altogether surprising
A covers album is one of the great dragons that many artists feel they have to slay, but too often, these collections miss the mark. Only a few linger as classics that listeners are genuinely encouraged to return to.
The central problem that any artist has to resolve is whether to stick to classic songs that most listeners instantly recognise or to record songs that aren’t that widely known. There’s also the additional weight of expectation that is exerted on the genre in our post-Glee, TV reality show world. These days, you can’t simply be content to cover a song – you’re expected to make it your own; to magically reverse engineer it into something new and altogether surprising.
It’s into this environment that Not Dark Yet, a covers album by Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer arrives. Between them Lynne and Moorer have released more than 20 albums, but this is the first time the sisters have performed together on record, although they have previously toured with each other.
While not entirely a covers album (Is It Too Much is penned by the sisters), Not Dark Yet plunders from their roots in country and rural southern American music, while also throwing up some delicious surprises from pop and rock. My List, an edgy track from The Killers’ second album, Sam’s Town, is reimagined as a soft, almost gospel-like lament. The title track, a Bob Dylan classic from 1997’s Time Out of Mind, becomes an angry anthem no longer bound by the limits of the writer’s voice. Into My Arms is an exquisite remake of one of the many peaks of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ career.
More expected is the bluegrass air of Silver Wings, their interpretation of Merle Haggard’s classic, and perhaps the country sorrow of I’m Looking for Blue Eyes, their remake of Jessi Colter’s 1970s song to a cheating partner, What’s Happened to Blue Eyes. Lungs (Townes Van Zandt) and The Color of a Cloudy Day (Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires) also fit neatly into this country-remake category.
What elevates Not Dark Yet above most covers albums is the interplay between the sisters’ voices and their willingness to move through their influences as the album progresses. With the notable exception of Lithium, an off-key and ill-advised Nirvana cover, Lynne and Moorer deliver a charming album of family ties, old curiosities and better-known classics, often infused with an alt-country twist. It’s a rewarding listen.
Updated: August 24, 2017 10:30 AM