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Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer: Sister act II

Siblings strike coincidental chords



For all the effort that talented siblings Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer have put into maintaining separate professional careers, both recently released new albums honoring the contributions of women in popular music less than a month apart.

Perhaps great minds think alike after all. Or vice versa.

"It's truly coincidence, I promise you," proclaims Allison Moorer, the younger of the two, whose album Mockingbird (New Line) covers songs from artists such as Nina Simone and Joni Mitchell, while Shelby Lynne's Just a Little Lovin' (Lost Highway) is a 10-song tribute to Dusty Springfield. "When we realized the release dates were so close, I started saying 'Maybe we should rethink this ... Maybe delay it.'"

Lynne was a little less concerned about the timing of the releases. "They were a month apart, so I didn't think it was a problem. We certainly didn't plan it, as we really don't talk much about our work, but just focus on being sisters."

It is striking how Moorer and Lynne have struggled to keep their professional lives separate. Yet they are so intertwined that they've still managed to travel a parallel course.

The Alabama natives grew up loving music and singing with their family, but lost their parents in a horrific murder/suicide when both were teens. Lynne eventually embarked to Nashville, and after college Moorer joined her as a backup singer. Though the equally talented sisters went their separate ways, both met challenges within the structured and rigid country music industry. Ultimately, they both left Nashville and the industry altogether.

Several years later, Lynne's departure came after accepting that she "was not into the Nashville formula," she says. "If you don't conform, you sort of get run out of town. Now I have gotten to a place where I can do what I want."

Moorer had a similar experience, but her move was also tempered by personal change. "I quickly figured out I wouldn't last there. Nashville is such a small town, and everybody knows everyone else's business. When I was in the process of splitting up with [first husband] Butch [Primm] and getting with Steve [Earle], lots of things were said by supposed friends, and they got back to me. We still have a home there, but just live somewhere else."

Both Lynne and Moorer recently took a break from songwriting and explored the work of other female artists.

"I had wanted to do an album of cover songs for a long time, and felt it was time to go back to school," Moorer says. "I did five albums of my own material from 1997 until 2005, and just needed to take a break; I had been in my own head for too long." On Mockingbird, Moorer filtered down a list of more than 40 songs to the dozen that made the cut, all by noted female writers, with the sole original being the title track. Ranging from June Carter Cash's "Ring Of Fire" to Cat Power's "Where Is My Love," Moorer covered a wide spectrum, but admits she just scratched the surface of the important songs written by women over the years.

"It was really tough to decide which ones to do; they were all such great songs. Naturally, Joni Mitchell ("Both Sides Now") had to be on it. She's so important and opened doors for women in music." Moorer is also quick to explain the inclusion of the Shelby Lynne song, "She Knows Where She Goes."

"She belongs on there, too," Moorer says. "It's a great song, and she has been such a big influence on me my whole life."

Lynne is obviously proud to be part of her sister's project, although she is succinct with her praise. "It's great. She made a great album." Lynne also had her own reasons for doing an album of tunes by a female artist, choosing instead to focus on the oeuvre of one singer.

But why do an entire album of songs by an artist who passed away in 1999, has little recognition among today's music scene, and whose career was typified by her interpretations of other people's songs? According to Lynne, Dusty Springfield deserves the honor. "She was one of the greatest pop singers of all time, and she was as important as anybody else. Dusty was the pop queen in Britain, was very well-known and respected in the U.S., and she was one of the first real divas."

Just A Little Lovin' is a low-key, moody body of work, in sharp contrast to Springfield's trademark big productions with strings and choruses. "I wanted to bring new life to these songs, and to somehow introduce people to Dusty's work," says Lynne, who is often considered one of the best singers in the contemporary music world, and she has managed to put her own unique imprint on Dusty's songs while allowing the original beauty to shine through.

As their lives move forward, Lynne and Moorer are forever linked by blood, and obviously by musical ideas. "We are blessed, lucky and grateful," Lynne says. "And we both love to sing."

That's a good place to be in life.

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