One of the year’s most anticipated releases is “Not Dark Yet,” the first collaborative album from sisters Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer, two gifted and successful singer-songwriters who have successfully crafted their own niches within the Americana music genre.
Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer With: Kelly Hogan When: 8 p.m. Aug. 30-31 Where: City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph Tickets: $30-$45 Info: citywinery.com/chicago
Fans have waited years for the two to go into the studio together. An attempt was made a few years ago but it didn’t go anywhere.
“It’s all about timing,” Lynne says, phoning from her home in Los Angeles. “We live on different coasts and had to really coordinate to make it work. Instinctively, now felt like the right time to do it.”
While the sisters admit they approach music in different ways, they nonetheless found common ground on the album, an eclectic roster of cover tunes, save for one original they co-wrote.
The covers range from childhood favorites (Merle Haggard’s “Silver Wings,” Jessi Colter’s “I’m Looking for Blue Eyes,” The Louvin Brothers’ “Every Time You Leave”) to songs by Bob Dylan (“Not Dark Yet”), Nick Cave (“Into My Arms”), Jason Isbell/Amanda Shires (“The Color of a Cloudy Day”) and, surprisingly, Nirvana (“Lithium”) and The Killers (“My List”).
“We had an ever-expanding and shrinking list that we worked from,” Moorer comments via email during the busy week before the album’s release on Aug. 18. “If we had made the record six weeks earlier or later the songs would’ve been different. The ones that ended up on it served to capture the moment.”
“We love great lyrics and melodies that we can really sing harmonies on,” Lynne notes. “That had a lot to do with the song choices.”
For guidance in the studio, Lynne and Moorer looked to producer Teddy Thompson, the son of Richard and Linda Thompson, and a singer-songwriter in his own right.
“Teddy brought a deep understanding of family harmonies which was invaluable,” Moorer, 45, says.
“He’s someone who could steer the ship with the musicians we chose,” Lynne says, referring to musicians such as guitar great Doug Pettibone and keyboardist Benmont Tench of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Lynne and Moorer both traveled the mainstream country route before finding their own distinct paths.
After years of little success in Nashville, Lynne’s breakout album, 2000’s “I Am Shelby Lynne,” showed her finally taking control of her music and her sound. The album’s blend of classic R&B, country, soul and rock was a critically acclaimed rebirth for Lynne; it won her a Grammy for best new artist in 2001, despite being in the business for 13 years and recording five previous albums.
Moorer was a Nashville-based songwriter, when, in 1998, “A Soft Place to Fall,” co-written with Gwil Owen, was featured in “The Horse Whisperer,” earning it an Oscar nomination for best original song. This was followed quickly by Moorer debut album “Alabama Song,” which moved her in a more Americana direction.
Both accomplished songwriters, the sisters now have a total of 24 albums between them. They grew up in a musical family in rural Alabama in the ‘70s, a time and place Moorer describes as “hot, backward, lovely, soulful and tragic.“
Music was something they shared from an early age. Lynne recalls: “We just sang all the time, everywhere we could. Around the house, in the car going to school, it was just a natural thing for us to do.”
Their sisterly bond goes much deeper than most and music would prove to be a lifeline in troubled times. When they were teenagers, they witnessed their father shoot and kill their mother and then turn the gun on himself.
“Yes, music has been and still is a lifeline for us,” Moorer says.
The album’s only original song, “Is It Too Much,” filled with moody guitars and understated drums, speaks to the intense bond they continue to share.
“It’s about just having a conversation with your sister,” Lynne says. “We’ve been very close all of our lives and as you grow older you start seeing all the wonderful facets of having a sister and how wonderful a gift that is. We care about each other, and songwriting is another way we speak to each other about that bond.”
Mary Houlihan is a local freelance writer.