The title of Lera Lynn’s new album, out this Friday, is both oblique and matter of fact. Plays Well With Others is a duets project, featuring seven original songs and a couple of covers recorded and/or written with eight different collaborators. Among them Dylan LeBlanc, Nicole Atkins, Shovels & Rope, JD McPherson and Andrew Combs.
Not long ago, Lynn, an acclaimed songwriter originally from Athens, GA, sang her own harmonies on her recordings and wrote alone, but five years in Nashville have surrounded her with a collaborative spirit and a close pool of co-writers.
“We’re all friends,” she told WMOT in an interview taped for a future episode of The String. “We’ve crossed each other’s paths in music and maybe a friendship grew out of that. It was all a pretty natural collaboration. It wasn’t degrees of separation (and) trying to get in touch with people to see if they could write.”
One such friend who turned out to be key to the recording and release was John Paul White, the male half of the former duo the Civil Wars. He’s now firmly established as a songwriter, producer and co-founder of the new indie label Single Lock Records in his hometown of Florence, AL.
“He’s kind of a one stop shop.” Lynn says with a laugh, noting that like most other artists on the disc, she and White have toured together. “We did a couple of duets in his show. And I think I mentioned that I’ve been working on these duets. I’d love to write one with you. And he was like, ‘We want to put that record out. We want to record that record in Florence and we want to put it out.’ And I was like, ‘That’s great. Let’s do it!’”
Lynn says when she visited White, he surprised her by hosting their initial writing session in the 1970s time capsule office of Muscle Shoals music legend - and his friend and mentor - the late Rick Hall. That produced two songs and kicked off a project that brought a cadre of Nashville artists to Florence in a carefully choreographed act of scheduling. The result, in keeping with Lynn's history of exploratory production, is an immersive experience, as rich for its sonic tapestries as its carefully-wrought duets.
"I'm still of the mindset that records should be a listening experience from start to finish," she says. "And I know we are in the age of singles, and that's something important to think about. But I still put the record first, in its entirety. How does this set of songs work together and what will the experience be like for someone who actually sits down and just listens to the music?"
Also notable on the album, Grammy winner and roots veteran Rodney Crowell, who plays the voice of temptation in the song “Crimson Underground.”
Crowell and White will be part of the festivities this Friday night at Lynn’s album release show at 3rd & Lindsley, featuring nearly all of the duet partners.