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Shelby Lynne: A Murder Ballad Hits Close To Home

In the devastating "Heaven's Only Days Down the Road," Shelby Lynne looks back at her own difficult history.
Lisa VanHecke
In the devastating "Heaven's Only Days Down the Road," Shelby Lynne looks back at her own difficult history.

Shelby Lynne's "Heaven's Only Days Down the Road" upholds a long tradition of Southern Gothic murder ballads — it's based on a true story, for one thing. And, in keeping with that tradition's finest examples, Lynne doesn't narrate a plot so much as allude to a series of unfolding actions, ratcheting up the tension musically as she exposes the mindset behind them.

Unlike most murder ballads, though, this one is devastatingly, tragically personal. "Lost all the faith a man can own / My hopes are empty and so is my soul," she sings, putting words in her own father's mouth. When she adds, "Can't blame the whiskey or my mammy's ways / Two little girls are better off this way," she's revealing what she can only suppose her father thought as he shot her mother to death before pointing the gun at himself, instantly transforming his two daughters from witnesses into orphans.

Lynne has addressed this life-shaping event before, but never as directly as she does on her recent Revelation Road — which she created entirely solo — or as vividly as she does in "Heaven's Only Days Down the Road." The song starts off gently enough, with only the occasional soft strum of Lynne's guitar accompanying her strong, bluesy vocal. A tambourine kicks in, along with what sounds like a boot heel tapping on wood. "Load up the gun full of regret / I ain't even pulled the trigger yet," she sings, augmented by layers of harmony and a slide guitar that bites out bitter notes as her voice, so smooth and Dusty Springfield-like, builds in passion and intensity. It takes on a harder, angrier edge, however, as she reaches the song's stark, unforgettable finish — a sound that must still haunt her dreams.

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Lynne Margolis