In the video for her new version of Coal Miner’s Daughter, Loretta Lynn swings on a porch seat, speaking the words to her most famous song with a blissful contentment that comes from a life well lived. Compared to other country legends at similar points in their career (see the existential crisis of Johnny Cash’s ‘Hurt’) Loretta appears serene.
That old cabin in Butcher Hollow she speaks of is from another century, another world long gone. Now she is a queen on a throne, almost ready to pass her title to those successors in waiting but not quite done ruling her kingdom just yet. Her crown rests lightly on the arm, the glitz of her ballgown and jewellery as dazzling as her defiant stare. The signature guitar at her side, Loretta looks ‘Still Woman Enough’ to reign supreme.
However it is my understanding that these songs were recorded in Cash Cabin a few years ago before her stroke. By my count this is the fourth of five intended album releases due from those sessions (some of the guests on here recorded their contributions more recently before the album was mixed).
What this means is that we have the unusual situation of Loretta essentially being a retired artist still releasing new(ish) music. Her musical influence is unquestionable; her legacy untouchable. She’s a model of how to be a woman songwriter in an industry still designed by and made for men. These albums also offer an example of how to finish your career: keeping your songs and memories burning brightly until the end.
The fighting, feisty spirit which has so defined her music is still heard in every note. She begins with ‘Still Woman Enough’, a rebuke to anyone who might think she’s past it. I wasn’t raised to give up she sings, with the help of friends Reba McEntire and Carrie Underwood. Loretta’s daughter Patsy Lynn Russell co-wrote the song and co-produced the album with John Carter Cash. Country music is a family affair and Loretta is the matriarch of them all.
After the year we’ve had, hearing her sing Keep on The Sunny Side is enough to bring you to tears. The classic rootsy production feels like it’s come straight from the fields where she grew up.
The track listing is a walk back through her past, like on the previous two albums Full Circle and Wouldn’t it Be Great she mainly mixes her own old songs with standards. Honky Tonk Girl was the first song Loretta wrote and while she would go on to write more personal, emotive songs her talent was obvious from the beginning.
On I Don’t Feel At Home Anymore she addresses mortality, sin, heaven and she sounds ready to go to the other side without fear. Her version of I Saw the Light is a celebration, sung with a joyous freedom. Before she leaves us she takes another walk around her Old Kentucky Home, in the sunshine, an idyllic paradise of the past.
The female collaborators she works with on the album are all mothers so it is fitting then to include her classic One’s On the Way, featuring guest Margo Price. Her other featured artists Reba, Carrie and Tanya represent the side of country music that is more glamour than grit and while all supremely talented none of them are known for their personal songwriting skills like Loretta. Margo, on the other hand, comes from a place of singer songwriter graft and craft, working her way through the bars to the Opry with children to support in the same way Loretta did back in the day. There’s a kindred spirit to their personal and musical connection. The song of course was written by a man but it tells a true story of the struggle and strife of real women. Depressingly you have to conclude that fifty years after it was written it still feels as relevant as ever.
Domestic troubles were never far away from Loretta’s pen, as heard on I Wanna Be Free where she sings of breaking the chain of gold around her finger. She never did get her own divorce, standing by her man to the end. On ‘My Love’ she reasserts her devotion to that wandering husband of hers, the loving sentiment honest and heartfelt still.
The only place to finish the album then is with her famous rebuke You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man). Tanya Tucker joins her on this new version and she too has a similar rebellious streak. Even though these kind of catfighting songs haven’t aged well in the light of modern feminism, in the end it is Loretta’s bitchy, fist city, take no bullshit attitude which gives her that outlaw edge and has made her a musical force to be reckoned with. Take the hit or get out of her way. She ain’t gonna change now that’s for sure.
Music is living, breathing memory. There will never be another Loretta Lynn. Bring her flowers now while she’s living.
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