CDs from Shelby Lynne, Nada Surf and Amy Winehouse

A Little Lovin', get Lucky and very Frank

Just a Little Lovin'
SHELBY LYNNE

(Lost Highway)

We may have gotten to the point where grownups would rather hear a great singer make a CD of remakes than one of new material. How else do you account for the proliferation of cover albums by veteran artists? On the face of it, this is a troubling trend, but then you hear Just a Little Lovin', Shelby Lynne's homage to Dusty Springfield, and the quality of the music is so high that it ceases to matter that the songs are recycled. The timeless emotional resonance of the '60s chestnuts, rendered with sensitive aplomb by a terrific vocalist, offers its own considerable rewards. The question becomes: Would you rather hear Lynne sing "Anyone Who Had a Heart," "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me," "I Only Want to Be With You," "The Look of Love," "Breakfast in Bed" and others or a compendium of fresh material?

I can make arguments for both.

It's important to note that Lynne is not strictly trading on nostalgia here. When she released her brilliant comeback album, I Am Shelby Lynne, in 2000, the former country chanteuse drew favorable comparisons to Dusty Springfield. But on Just a Little Lovin', Lynne seems determined to downplay her stylistic affinity for the blue-eyed soul legend. Whereas Dusty was most effective with big gestures, Lynne opts for restraint.

She and fabled producer Phil Ramone dial everything back, slowing the tempos and relying solely on a seasoned four-piece studio band. The roomy rhythm tracks are made up of plaintive drum patterns and bass work, simple guitar figures and chords, and the bell-like tones of a piano or Fender Rhodes. Nary an overdub can be heard.

With this minimal backdrop, Lynne is free to caress each lyric, lingering on words and phrases for emphasis, drawing the listener in close. It's funny that she started out in country, because Lynne has much more innate bluesiness than twang in those pipes. Given that, she never forces a bent note for effect. Most often she starts out at a simmer, then sumptuously, even casually, builds the intensity — more to a bubble than a boil.

The result is a pervasive melancholy that winningly courses through the disc. Whereas Dusty's version of "I Only Want to Be With You" reverberates with the joy of unmitigated love, Lynne sings the line "I don't know what it is that makes me love you so," with a certain incredulity, as if it's too good to be true. This kind of thing happens repeatedly in Just a Little Lovin': new takes on old tunes, making them sort of new again. 4 stars —Eric Snider

Lucky
NADA SURF

(Barsuk)

Nada Surf's fifth album takes the anthemic triumph of 2005's The Weight is a Gift and 2003's Let Go down a few notches with a steady midtempo assortment of polished pop ditties. Singer/guitarist Matthew Caws continues to mature as a lyricist, his sheer vocals given new heft on "Weightless." Bassist Daniel Lorca and drummer Ira Elliot get studio assists from piano, strings and the occasional horn arrangement on this latest batch of sing-a-long-ready tunes: One can almost hear earnest fans mouthing the words to the delicate wonder of "Are You Lightning?" and "I Like What You Say." But most fortunate for listeners this go-'round is the transcendent "Beautiful Beat," as fine and shimmering a number as Caws and company have ever crafted. 3.5 stars —Amanda Schurr

Frank
AMY WINEHOUSE

(Universal Republic)

She picked up five trophies at the Grammy Awards last week — including one for Best New Artist — on the merits of her album Back to Black and the hit single "Rehab," which has become disturbingly autobiographical of late. But the troubled British soul singer/songwriter's career actually dates back to her 2003 debut disc, Frank. Originally issued in the U.K., Winehouse's label released it stateside just in time to capitalize on the vocalist's myriad Grammy nominations and subsequent wins. Frank's not consistently brilliant like Back to Black — Mark Ronson's adroit production is sorely missing. But it still finds Winehouse in fine voice, even if influences like Sarah Vaughan are bit too obvious. Decidedly more jazz-informed than her breakthrough sophomore effort, there's an old-school, understated charm to songs like "I Heard Love Is Blind" — although the same theme would be explored to much greater effect on "Love Is a Losing Game," a modern classic found on Back to Black. Frank's crowning moment is "Fuck Me Pumps," which foreshadows the candid, often devastating lines that would make Winehouse's follow-up album such a revelation. 3.5 stars —Wade Tatangelo