At 88 years old. and after overcoming many health issues that have forced her off the road, Loretta Lynn returns with a record produced by her daughter Patsy and John Cash’s son John.
His grandpa AP Carter made the song Keep On The Sunny Side a standard in the 1920s. Loretta’s version sounds breezy and bluegrassy here, while she is punchy and obdurate in the treatment of Where No One Stands Alone and I’ll Be All Smiles Tonight. Hank Williams’ evergreen anthem I Saw The Light (‘Praise the Lord!’) pops up too, as does the trad. arr. I Don’t Feel At Home Anymore, where steel guitar is the dominant instrument.
Many songs are new takes on some of Loretta’s catalogue, such as her first hit Honky Tonk Girl (from 1960!) and I Wanna Be Free, a song that hit the charts 50 years ago when the great Owen Bradley poured treacle and ‘aaah’s from male backing singers over it. I recommend listening to 40-year-old Loretta next to the veteran Loretta, especially as there is some hyperactive banjo in the mix in 2021.
There’s a brief mandolin solo on Old Kentucky Home (‘it’s summer and everyone’s gay…the birds, they make music all day’); the banjo-and-vocal Coal Miner’s Daughter is recited rather than sung (I forgot Loretta was one of eight children). My Love is a love song on which Loretta’s voice is extraordinary and tender.
There’s a reason Loretta was named the first CMA Female Vocalist of the Year in 1967, which she regained in 1972 and 1973. She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988 and gained a Kennedy Center Honor during George W Bush’s presidency in 2003.
Not many 88-year-olds can write new music that sounds contemporary; perhaps only Willie Nelson comes close. The opening track Is such a tune, as she proclaims she ‘wasn’t raised to give up’. The little-known Oklahoman pair of Reba McEntire and Carrie Underwood tell their tales too, which is testament to the reverence the pair feel for a trailblazer who, I think even more than Dolly Parton, kicked down the door for the girl-singer.
Two more girl singers appear on the album. Tanya Tucker adds harmonies and solo lines to album closer You Ain’t Woman Enough, which was originally released when Tanya was seven in 1966. Brandi Carlile, who is Tanya’s main collaborator these days, is another in the tradition of Loretta Lynn, as is Margo Price, who appears on One’s On The Way, an ode to motherhood written by Shel Silverstein and a hit for Loretta 50 years ago. The tune is given the sort of treatment Loretta’s songs used to get: fiddle, steel, oom-chacka drum beat, punchy spoken word section.
Margo would have been a superstar in any other era but she sticks out on country radio; thankfully satellite radio can play Loretta, Tanya and Margo back to back and create the chain through the ages.