Billie Holiday had it right: "Oh, what a little moonlight can do." Atmospherics can count for a lot.
That was certainly true for Shelby Lynne's ethereal Saturday night concert at the Circular Congregational Church. Throughout the evening, both artist and stage were lit solely by a handful of low-wattage lamps casting little more than a gaslight glow, barely augmented by the full moon outside, dimmed against stained glass windows.
In this moody twilight, Lynne and her three-piece band offered a heartfelt, if oddly spectral, show.
Muzzy stage lighting created one distracting consequence: camera flashes popped like champagne corks all night, the wannabe paparazzi relentlessly pursuing a well-lit shot of the famously lovely singer.
Now touring behind her album of Dusty Springfield covers, Just a Little Lovin', Lynne's setlist was mostly rooted around her equally well-received earlier albums. Some of the evening's best moments, in fact, were Lynne's originals: "Leavin'" from I Am Shelby Lynne captured the evening's aura, dead on target. Lynne's homage to the Man in Black, "Johnny Met June" and, in a similar vein, the Springfield cover, "Anyone Who Had a Heart," came across as unlikely hymns.
But Lynne's performance wasn't all gossamer and moon-glow. With its swampy vibe, the Tony Joe White number "Willie and Laura Mae Jones" gave both Lynne and guitarist John Jackson a chance to kick around in back-home mud.
And it wouldn't be much of a Shelby Lynne show without some memorable quip. One of the best came early on: "It's so funny. I love this song and I never get to sing it in church," she said and launched into "Buttons And Beaus," belting out the opening lines with extra gusto: "Your mama's a whore/Your daddy's dead..." The crowd ate it up.
In Charleston to star in an episode of Lifetime's Army Wives, Lynne gave the Holy City a lyrical, accomplished performance; her voice was beautiful and strong as ever, growing more nuanced as the evening progressed.
Even the unorthodox lighting did little to mar the experience for her fans. "She wants it her way," was one comment. And if that means keeping her audience a little in the dark, well ...