It’s a safe bet that Not Dark Yet—the gorgeous collaboration between sisters Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer—will be the only album out this year that contains covers of both Nirvana’s “Lithium” and the Louvin Brothers’ “Every Time You Leave.”
Lynne would have it no other way. “We love all different kinds of music,” she says. “We realize that we’re from the country and we’re proud of being those people, but it doesn’t mean that we’re going to sit around with the banjo on our knees.”
Lynne and Moorer, both acclaimed artists in their own right, have been singing together since their childhood in Alabama, when Moorer piped up from the back seat of their car and joined Lynne and their mother in perfect three-part harmony. Lynne was seven, Moorer was three.
Blame separate careers and coasts, but it has taken more than 40 years for the siblings—Lynne refers to Moorer as “Sissy”—to clear their schedules enough to record last summer at Lynne’s home studio in Los Angeles with producer Teddy Thompson and top-tier musicians including Benmont Tench, Ben Peeler, and Doug Pettibone. Lynne talked to Acoustic Guitar about making Not Dark Yet (Silver Cross Records/Thirty Tigers).
What is the intimidation factor when you’re taking on songs written by Kurt Cobain, Nick Cave, and Townes Van Zandt?
None, because the first thing that comes to our minds when we want to take on somebody else’s composition is “Would they dig it?” and that’s all we have to ask ourselves. It’s all about being in the service of the song and the songwriter. Sissy and I don’t do the song for any reason except first of all we dig it and we’re going to try to make that songwriter, alive or passed, happy with it and glad we took a shot at doing a cool song of theirs.
You and Allison both play acoustic guitar on Jessi Colter’s “I’m Looking for Blue Eyes.” Who is the better player?
Allison played more guitar on the record than I did—I don’t know why, because I’ve always been the guitar player our whole lives. But Sissy plays and she plays well and she knows a lot more about guitar than I do. I’m an old back-porch picker and she’s a little more schooled. She knows what to call chords. I wouldn’t know shit from a chord, I just know it sounds good.
What was your first guitar?
It was a Gibson B-25 in 1967. I was about seven. I never put it down. Sissy has the original. I have two of them now. There is an emotional attachment to it, but it also sounds good and it’s a good size. I’m not too big a woman and it just suits me. It gives me what I need and I can beat the hell out of it.
The album closes with the one original, “Is It Too Much,” which you started as a loving tribute of support to your sister.
I was just having a moment of thinking about everything that she goes through. Life weighs on you hard when you get down to it. When you’re raised in the same house by the same folks and you go through the same shit every day, you are that [support system] for that somebody, if you’re lucky enough to have a sister. I’m lucky enough to have the one that I have and I wanted her to know that.
Will there be a Volume ll?
Hey, we’re always thinking that, because that’s what we do, we make records. If an opportunity came up and we were blessed enough to do it, we damn well would.
This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.