Having suffered a stroke and a broken hip in the last few years, you might expect living legend Loretta Lynn to be taking it easy now she is in her eighties. Instead, after a little delay for her recovery, she is releasing her third of five planned new albums produced by John Carter Cash and her daughter Patsy Lynn Russell. Loretta’s music remains steadfastly traditional and ‘Wouldn’t It Be Great’ contains a mix of re-recorded songs and new material in the classic country style which made her name.
Originally released in the eighties, title track Wouldn’t it Be Great has taken on deeper significance since the death of her hard drinking husband. In fact it was one of the last things she sang to him as he was dying, a lament for a life and love lost to alcoholism. The bottle took my place / Love went to waste, she sings sadly. The song still has a glimmer of hope in the way she dreams of a better life but conveying pain is what Loretta does best. Her voice has aged well and the rootsy production on the track really elevates this version to a classic.
Ruby’s Stool is probably the catchiest new song on here, a slice of real honky tonk, full of character and sass. The overt bitchiness of songs like these has always made them a guilty pleasure for me, as you do start to wonder why her anger is always directed at the other woman and not the man. For the sake of the sisterhood it would be nice if Loretta’s albums could be cat fight free for once (Everything It Takes from ‘Full Circle’ also made me somewhat uncomfortable). But I understand that Loretta has made a career out of songs like Fist City and You Ain’t Woman Enough, so I’m not expecting to hear feminist anthems from her or anything. Still wouldn’t it be great if we could all just get along?
Songs about aging and loneliness have been some of the strongest on her recent albums and I’m Dying For Someone To Live For is another real classic example of these type of weepies. Ain’t No Time To Go explores issues of separation and pain, with a beautiful bluegrass sound.
Another Bridge To Burn showcases the excellent musicians on this album. The central metaphor is delivered with wisdom that can only be gained by living. God Makes No Mistakes and The Big Man are simple assertions of her faith, and along with My Angel Mother they work together to form a sense that Loretta is accepting of what she has been given in life (the good and bad).
Unlike Dolly, her only real living equal in status and stardom, Loretta has never tried to leave country music behind or tried to chase modern trends. The closest she got to experimenting with the contemporary was working with rockstar Jack White on Van Lear Rose.
In comparison this series of albums do feel like a step backwards to a simpler, more comforting style of classic country music. The re-recorded versions of her biggest hits like Don’t Come Home A Drinkin and Coal Miner’s Daughter might be filler but songwriting this sharp never ages. Maybe though it would have been more interesting to hear her sing songs she has never performed before, like Johnny Cash did with the American recordings or for her to try something a little less safe. And unlike her previous album, the superior ‘Full Circle’, this one suffers from lack of a cohesive structure or theme and does feel a bit tacked together from various sessions.
Perhaps expecting something timeless is just too much to ask at this stage in her career – we should just be content to have an album like ‘Wouldn’t it Be Great’ at all, since the songs and the music are authentic country of the highest quality. We will miss her when she’s gone, so now’s the time to celebrate Loretta Lynn and be grateful we still have her with us.