Music News & Reviews

She let go of her own ideas. And for songwriter Lera Lynn, the result was worth it.

Lera Lynn performs a duo concert Thursday at the Burl with multi-instrumentalist Todd Lombardo.
Lera Lynn performs a duo concert Thursday at the Burl with multi-instrumentalist Todd Lombardo.

Lera Lynn was tired of being alone. 

As a versed songsmith, she was fiercely loyal to her own ideas of how songs should be composed, recorded and performed. That sense of independence paid off through a career than has produced three stylistically distinct albums and breakthrough contributions to the HBO series “True Detective” as a soundtrack songstress as well as occasional on-screen performer. 

Last year, though, Lynn sought some company. That triggered the idea for an album devoted exclusively to duets. But Lynn didn’t want the usual formulaic project limited to mere vocal pairings in the recording studio. She wanted the collaborations to go deep enough to where she could co-write the tunes with her singing partner. 

The results became “Plays Well With Others,” a record that teamed the folk, pop and rock stylist with a team of talents that included John Paul White, Nicole Atkins, JD McPherson and Rodney Crowell. 

“I had heard a lot of duets in my life and, of course, people still cut duets regularly in pop music,” said Lynn, who performs a duo concert Thursday at the Burl with multi-instrumentalist Todd Lombardo. 

“But how often is it that an artist does an entire record that is collaborative and actually writes the song with the other singer? I just thought it would be a fun project to get me a little bit out of my own comfort zone in terms of writing and really force me to open myself up to other people’s ideas because I’m mostly an individual, a solo writer. I just wanted to do something that was very different from any thing else I’ve done.” 

With a mostly light and spacious sound built around acoustic instrumentation, Lynn set about the in-depth collaborations with Civil Wars alum John Paul White as co-producer and, for two songs, duet partner. 

“My favorite part of John’s production style comes down to singing. I think it’s rare to find a producer, at least in my experience thus far, who is listening to every single syllable, where you’re breathing, how you’re shaping words, how you’re holding your mouth and what part of your mouth are you singing from. John, being a fantastic singer himself, was very attentive to all of those details. I felt like we were speaking our own language.” 

The list of collaborators crossed generational lines. A contemporary like Atkins proved a natural fit. Like Lynn, she has long shown an affinity for the music of vintage pop pioneers like Roy Orbison. A mutual love for that sound abounds on the lovelorn “In Another Life.” 

“We really wanted to write something like a dreamy ‘50s, ‘60s ballad,” Lynn said, “That’s what we originally discussed. She had this line, ‘In another life, wiser for the time.’ I was like, ‘I kind of know what that means, so let’s write that.’ And it was easy writing together. That was one of the more effortless compositions, in fact. We both just kind of stepped on the train and went for it.” 

A generation removed from Atkins was Americana scholar Crowell. The two met in a location both obvious and unlikely — the baggage claim area of an airport. Their collaboration was the purposely devilish temptation saga “Crimson Underground.’ 

“I was a little confused as to what the two of us would be singing together,” Lynn said. “Maybe a love song wasn’t appropriate given our age difference. But with all the character that is in Rodney’s voice, I thought he would make a great devil, a voice of temptation. He was into that idea, so I jotted down a verse, he liked it and we wrote ‘Crimson Underground.’” 

The songs are but two examples of what happens when an independently minded songwriter lets another take the wheel for a verse or two. But Lynn confessed such an invite didn’t come easily. 

“It can be challenging just to let go of your own ideas at times, especially for people who are used to writing alone. They can get married to their ideas. But I think each writer I worked with for this project was really open and trusting. That’s really the most important aspect of the whole endeavor.

“When you’re able to do that, then the two of you are able to ask for something that is far greater than what you could come up with on your own.”

If you go:

Lera Lynn/Reuben Bidez

When: 8 p.m. Sept. 20

Where: The Burl, 375 Thompson Rd. admission: $15