Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Still Woman Enough

Category:  Album Review

In the Adam Ant song "Goody Two Shoes" he sang, "Look out or they'll tell you you're a superstar, two weeks and you're an all-time legend, I think the games have gone much too far."  (Yes, I did just quote Adam Ant in a review of a country music album.)  Superlatives are thrown around carelessly anymore, such as in the case of "legend."

There are some, however, completely deserving of the accolades, such as Loretta Lynn.  People who don't even like country music know who she is.  Her autobiography, Coal Miner's Daughter, became an Academy Award-winning film in 1980.

In 2004 Lynn released Van Lear Rose, a fresh and original album that featured a fan:  then-28-year-old Jack White, the leader of the rock band the White Stripes.  It took home the "Best Country Album" Grammy for 2004, and deservedly so.  Lynn, who was 72 at the time, chalked one up for the "old farts" (as Blake Shelton would infamously later call the classic country acts).

Poor ol' Blake and all those people who stuck their feet in their mouths last year (Gary Overton and his "if you're not on country radio you don't exist" and Keith Hill, who said that men were the driving force of country music sales and women were just "tomatoes") must be on suicide watch now.  Loretta Lynn's new album, Full Circle, is an amazing collection that shows she still has everything -- songwriting and singing -- and that people still want to hear it (it debuted on the Billboard country album charts this week at #4).  

The cover of Loretta Lynn's brilliant
new album
Full Circle.  Courtesy
Legacy Recordings.

I'll begin by admitting that Loretta is a favorite of mine.  I saw her in 2014, and tears ran down my cheek from the moment she walked on stage until she left.  Just being in the same venue as this truly amazing performer was enough, never mind that 90-minute romp through her classics.  

I'll admit when even my favorite singers do wrong.  Ask me about my least favorite Jim Reeves songs while you're inquiring about my favorites.  I wasn't too overly fond of things like "Rated 'X'" or "The Pill" in Loretta's collection of hit singles.

But I have no gripes this time around.  There's nothing wrong with this album.  It is classic Loretta.  "Everything It Takes" is the song that grabbed me the moment I heard it...then I discovered that subtle, quiet background singer is Elvis Costello!  Co-written with Todd Snider (one of five songs that she wrote or co-wrote on the album), it's everything that has made Loretta Lynn a household name.

Her cover of "Secret Love" is also superb.  One of my all-time favorite pop songs, Lynn delivers it like a country ballad.  Speaking of covers, she took a bold move in covering "Always On My Mind," a song that is almost inseparably associated with Willie Nelson (despite the fact that Elvis, Brenda Lee, and Gwen MacRae recorded it ten years before Willie).  She turns the song into her own, delivering the song with such conviction that you can almost see her looking at a picture of her late, beloved husband Dooley as she sings it.

"Fist City" is remade here with the same ferocity as the 1968 original.  Loretta may be pushing 84, but this version sounds like she can still "grab you by the hair of the head and lift you off the ground." 

The song that'll probably generate the most attention is the T. Graham Brown song "Wine Into Water."  Loretta sings this amazing tune about an alcoholic begging for spiritual ("Now I'm on my knees and I'm begging to you, Father, will you help me turn the wine back into water?") and personal forgiveness.  Given that her late husband was an alcoholic (which she wrote about in no uncertain terms in her songs ["Don't Come Home A-Drinkin'"] and her books) this song probably is as close to Loretta's heart as any song she has ever done.  

Full Circle is an album that shows that Loretta Lynn is nowhere near "past her prime."  Her voice is as strong and wonderful as ever, and this is an album that will not only solidify her in the hearts of her decades-long fans but will make her thousands of new fans in the process.  This album will unquestionably be on every year-end "best-of" list.

As the title of her follow-up to the Coal Miner's Daughter book said, she's STILL woman enough, and she shows it on all 14 tracks.  Don't miss this album.

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