I fell in love with Shelby Lynne all over again this past week with her stunningly beautiful new album Revelation Road, in particular the heartbreaking, beautiful "I'll Hold Your Head."
It's a gentle, bittersweet portrait of a family life her family life contrasting the loving memory of singing favorite songs in the car with her mom and sister on the way to school with the struggle to survive poverty in south Alabama and turbulent marriage of her parents. Love and heartache abound but there is beauty to be found in the strength and bonds of sisterhood and family.
Lynne is a fantastic singer and no doubt her connection to the story she's telling in her own voice adds power to the performance but the greatest strength in "I'll Hold Your Head" comes from her gift with language.
We can picture two little girls shivering in the backseat of a noisy car that could break at any minute speeding down an old Alabama road, singing country music with the AM radio, looking down at the Folgers can that serves as their lunchbox with nothing more than a scrambled egg sandwich to eat. We can imagine that being the easiest part of their day, knowing what they'll return to at home that night. Two little girls may not know much about the grownup world but they've seen too much of it and know something is very wrong: "It's fair for a youngin'/and all this hurtin'/battling the blues and the beer and the bourbon/c'mon sissy, let's close the door/don't wanna hear the noise no more."
It's an amazing piece of story telling because in between the snapshot of the girls at school and the worries of what awaits them at home, Lynne paints the picture of hardworking people resigned to the backbreaking work that might keep the lights turned on and put just enough food on the table.
Where some have turned to the bottle to medicate their hurts, Lynne, her beloved sissy, and their mother physically draw closer together: "I'll hold your head/I'll ease your mind/Let me sing you a lullaby/sit here by the fire." The gentle touch of cradling her babies' head in her arms or one sister holding the other and the comfort of singing songs of peace and tranquility is their last and best defense against a world that feels like its caving in on them. It may not seem like a lot and it may not be enough but it's all they have and it only has to be enough right now, tonight. That's love in its purest form. It's not romantic heroism; it's much stronger than that.