Shelby Lynne / April 4, 2008 / New York (Society for Ethical Culture)

The former church inside New York's Society for Ethical Culture headquarters seemed the ideal place to hear Shelby Lynne cover Dusty Springfield. Lynne has approached her new "Just a Little Lovin'" pr

The former church inside New York's Society for Ethical Culture headquarters seemed the ideal place to hear Shelby Lynne cover Dusty Springfield. Lynne has approached her new "Just a Little Lovin'" project with a religious intensity, going so far as to chastise a fan who shouted for a Lynne original at her November New York showcase concert.

One had to wonder how the famously mercurial singer would perform when she returned to the city with her official tour. She could've easily given the Dusty CD the no-holds-barred approach she brought to "I Am Shelby Lynne," but chose low-key, stripped down covers in the vein of her last few inspired albums. The result sounded too laid back compared to some Dusty originals at first, but it invited repeat listening, and her approach seemed smarter and stronger with each play.

Lynne embraced her entire sonic spectrum at the April 4 show, from the earlier hymn-like vocals to explosive takes on "Your Lies" and "Jesus on A Greyhound." Yet she often found her greatest strength in silence, evident in the languorous gaps between lyrics on "Lovin" and the eerie "Black Light Blue."

Lynne's BS-free, tell-it-like-it-is style was evident every moment she was onstage, whether chastising a keyboard soloist for sounding too much like Van Halen's "Jump" ("Play something else") or declaring her amazement with a new bass flute solo on a never-better version of "Dreamsome."

"You realize a lot about yourself after 16 drinks," she said at one point, describing the genesis of one song. "The problem is, so does everyone else." Yet despite any past boozing, her voice sounded clear as crystal, in the same league as the great Annie Lennox and the underappreciated Eddi Reader.

The show struck a good balance between originals (minus her best song, "Leavin'"), several Dusty numbers and oft-declared mission statements. "When I got in the business 20 years ago, they stopped makin' these," she said, holding up her new album. "It took me 20 years to get on vinyl."

But in a sad twist, the pureness of her singing and her band's solos was severely compromised by a poor sound system. Even to the center of the left aisle in the theater's circular, padded pews, virtually all audio seemed to emanate from the left side of the room, inspiring a headache even on slow numbers. The fact that they could overcome this is a testament to their talent.