My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Loretta Lynn – ‘Full Circle’

91pRGFM-iWL._SX522_Twelve years after winning a Best Country Album Grammy, Loretta Lynn has finally gotten around to releasing a follow-up album. Not only is Full Circle well worth the wait, it is bound to be warmly received by fans who were disappointed in the genre-bending Van Lear Rose. Produced by Lynn’s daughter Patsy Lynn Russell and John Carter Cash, Full Circle finds Lynn singing traditional folk songs she grew up with, remakes of her own hits and some new songs, with the occasional traditional pop standard thrown in. She moves through the somewhat eclectic track list effortlessly and seamlessly, sounding equally at home with each musical style represented.

I was blown away by Lynn’s vocals, which are showing no sign of diminishing with age. Her voice is stronger now than it was on Van Lear Rose and she could easily hold her own vocalists less than half her age. After some introductory studio banter the album gets underway with a remake of “Whispering Sea”, which is the first song that Loretta ever wrote, and was included as the B-side of her first single “I’m A Honky Tonk Girl”. It’s the first of three remakes of old Lynn hits; the other two are 1965’s “Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven” and 1968’s “Fist City”, which even at age 83, Loretta pulls off with gusto and credibility.

A pair of traditional pop standards are a little unexpected on a Loretta Lynn album, but they fit in surprisingly well with the rest of the album. “Secret Love”, first introduced by Doris Day in 1953, gives Loretta a chance to demonstrate that she hasn’t lost any vocal range. It has a simple yet sophisticated twin-fiddle arrangement, and is reminiscent of the Nashville Sound records that her old producer Owen Bradley used to make with Patsy Cline. Ditto for “Band of Gold”, a pop hit from 1955. Don Cherry’s doo-wap style is replaced with Bob Wills-type of arrangement with some excellent steel guitar.

She also covers some more contemporary numbers, including Willie Nelson’s “Always on My Mind” and T. Graham Brown’s “Wine into Water.” Elvis Costello provides some subtle harmony vocals on the toe-tapper “Everything It Takes” a new track that Lynn wrote with Todd Snider. It’s reminiscent of the type of record Loretta made in her heyday, although the message is delivered in a less fiery and more world-weary manner. It’s my favorite song on the album. She also duets with Willie Nelson on “Lay Me Down”, a quiet acoustic number that finds the two legends looking with resignation and acceptance toward an uncertain future.

Loretta looks back at songs from her childhood: the traditional “In The Pines” and The Carter Family’s “Black Jack David” and “I Never Will Marry”. I wouldn’t have minded an entire album of tunes like this. Her own composition, a new song called “Who’s Gonna Miss Me?” has a similar old-timey sound. It finds her looking back on her accomplishments, reflecting on her legacy and asking, “Who’s gonna miss me when I’m gone?” The answer to that, of course, is everybody. It is hard to imagine country music without Loretta Lynn but fortunately there are no any indications that she will be saying her farewells anytime soon. It’s a bit early in the year to start making predictions about the best album of the year, but it’s hard to imagine how anything will top this one. I cannot recommend it enough.

Grade: A+

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37 responses to “Album Review: Loretta Lynn – ‘Full Circle’

  1. Stan Zorin March 10, 2016 at 10:05 am

    Who was not happy with Van Lear Rose ? There is ‘Country’ and there is ‘Hard Country’ like there is ‘Rock’ and ‘Hard Rock’. Van Lear Rose is ‘Hard Country’

    • Ken March 10, 2016 at 7:44 pm

      Van Lear Rose was a horrible album. It sounded like Loretta has been abducted and held captive by a garage band. Hard country would be Loretta’s 1960’s & early 70’s recordings. Hard country would be Ernest Tubb or Webb Pierce or Kitty Wells or Hank Williams Sr. Van Lear Rose was just bad music. Too bad because many of the actual songs weren’t bad but it was hard to tell because of the annoying in-your-face instrumentation that covered them up.

  2. Razor X March 10, 2016 at 10:50 am

    A lot of people weren’t happy with Van Lear Rose. I’d call many of the songs garage rock, not “hard country”.

    • Occasional Hope March 10, 2016 at 2:20 pm

      This is so much better than Van Lear Rose. Her voice isn’t what it was in her heyday, but it’s better than it had been in some years.

  3. luckyoldsun March 10, 2016 at 1:28 pm

    Loretta is 83. A couple of months younger than Johnny Cash would be–today.. A year older than Willie and Patsy. Older than Bobby Bare. Older than George Jones was when he died.
    No-one has yet found the fountain of youth. While I’m interested in hearing what this disc sounds like, I’m taking the claims that Loretta’s voice shows no signs of diminishing with age and that she holds her own with singers half her age–and that this is likely to be the “Album of the Year” as unabashed hyperbole.

    • Razor X March 10, 2016 at 1:41 pm

      You can do whatever you like but perhaps it might be wise to actually listen to the album before stirring the pot? Just sayin’. And I didn’t say that it was going to be “Album of the Year”; I said it was a contender for best album of the year — meaning MY personal choice for best album.

      • luckyoldsun March 11, 2016 at 10:58 am

        I heard the one song that is on Youtube. I’ve got to say that Loretta’s voice sounds stronger and younger than any of those other legends–Cash, Willie, Jones, and not-quite-legend Baer–sounded on recordings that they made at or near the end of their careers. I’ll await hearing the rest of the album.

    • Stan Zorin March 10, 2016 at 4:17 pm

      Actually, I think this Loretta’s album will be the album of the year

    • Ken March 10, 2016 at 5:46 pm

      Typical luckyoldsun post. Speculating on something without having ANY facts. Speculating without even HEARING the music. The only thing you did to create your post was to research the birth years of the stars you mentioned. Your time would have been better spent going to YouTube and actually LISTENING to some of Loretta’s new music and then offer your comments. But that would preclude you from posting your usual inane and uninformed drivel. Posts like yours add little to the discussion other than highlighting that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

      Loretta’s new album is excellent. And that’s no “unabashed hyperbole.”

  4. Ken March 10, 2016 at 8:19 pm

    Loretta recently performed on The Tonight Show. Her current band was superb and sounded as good as her Coal Miner’s band did back in the day. Here’s a link to the NBC/Tonight Show site with a clip

    http://www.nbc.com/the-tonight-show/video/loretta-lynn-everything-it-takes/2996242

    • Tyler Pappas March 10, 2016 at 10:29 pm

      To each is own but I loved the “Van Lear Rose” album. It was my first Loretta Lynn album and got me into her music.

      • Paul W Dennis March 11, 2016 at 6:39 am

        Among my hard country friends reaction to Van Lear Rose was mixed. I liked some of the songs, others I might have liked with different arrangements. I did not hate any of the songs. Most of my friends hated most of the album, but liked a few of the songs

        This album is much more to my taste and Loretta seems to be in much better voice. This is a solid “A”

      • Ken March 11, 2016 at 9:30 am

        If Van Lear Rose is what got you into her music then that was indeed a positive result. Then when you go back and listen to Loretta’s earlier recordings you can clearly hear what she’s SUPPOSED to sound like.

      • Stan Zorin March 13, 2016 at 12:29 pm

        I like sophisticated and softer Country but Van Lear Rose is also, for me, an excellent album. It is not a glass of smooth red wine like any decent country album is, but a shot of tequila with lemon.

  5. the_trouble_with_the_truth March 11, 2016 at 9:45 am

    I think Van Lear Rose was an awesome album. It was the first Loretta album I ever bought, I was 20 at the time. The album did, what I imagine they were going for, introduced Loretta to the younger generation. It worked. So many younger ppl I know bought that album. I even attended my first Loretta concert thanks to that album. After I discovered I liked Loretta more than I thought, I checked out her old catalog and became more that just a casual fan who knew about ten of her biggest hits. I think the album may have alienated fans of the old Loretta. However, as I see how well Full Circle is selling on the Building Album Chart on Hits Daily Double, I can’t help but think it helped bring Loretta back to the top to stay where she belongs. Full Circle is an album the new fans and the old can both love! Van Lear Rose served its purpose well.

    • Tyler Pappas March 12, 2016 at 9:25 am

      I would not call any of the tracks on “Van Lear Rose” hard country. Hard country music is one I usually refer to as traditional country or Honky-Tonk. I love that style more than any style of country music although western swing is also up there. I can understand why long time fans of Loretta would think that album is awful. It’s a whole different style that what you would be used to hearing from her. But I still regard it as one of her best albums along with “Coal Miner’s Daughter”, “Fist City” and “Don’t Come Home a Drinkin'”. That album was one of the few examples of older artists taking a completely direction to their music and ended up creating a great record.

      • Ken March 12, 2016 at 10:31 am

        The best term to be applied to Van Lear Rose is “hardly country.”

      • Stan Zorin March 13, 2016 at 1:24 pm

        I think you are confusing the word Hard with words Pure / Traditional / Real. Hard Country does not denote Pure / Traditional / Real Country. Hard relates to instrumentation used and to the manner of their playing and to the sound pressure being produced – hard as opposed to light / lighter and more delicate. A similar gradation and a “scandal” within a music genre occurred when EmmyLou Harris moved Folk / Roots music into heavy sound territory. But her ‘Wrecking Ball’ album turned out to be a revelation. Some people were shocked by it but many, many liked it. Although the music of ‘Wrecking Ball’ sounds much ‘heavier’ than a run of the mill sound of a typical Folk / Roots album, it is not, and does not fit, Rock music sound. The same is with ‘Van Lear Rose’ album. Some on this forum call the style of this album ‘garage’ Rock but a Rock music it is not. The king sound of the Rock music – the growling wailing squealing electric guitar is absent from Loretta’s album. The bass and rhytm section of the Loretta’s band is more emphatic, due to the addition of strong short plucking of string of electric guitar, almost like a second, and tenor, bass, but that is as far as the road to Rock country [pun intended ?] goes. Also, the tempo is increased somewhat. The album is indeed ‘Hard Country’.

        • Ken March 13, 2016 at 2:10 pm

          There’s no confusion. “Hard country” is a term that has been used as far back as I can remember to denote real, authentic, traditional country music. “Stone country” is another term that has been used in that same connotation. Specifically it’s the style of country music that you would hear played on jukeboxes in country bars & honky-tonks or played by the bands onstage in those beer joints back in the day. The core ensemble featured steel guitar & fiddle and an electric guitar (usually a Fender) played without excessive distortion or fuzz tone. Shuffle songs are exhibit one for the hard country sound. Hank Williams, Ray Price (during the 1950’s & early 60’s) Lefty Frizzell, Ernest Tubb and Webb Pierce are all core hard country artists.

          I’ve no idea where you have gotten your definition of the term “hard country” but I assure you that it’s not accurate. I’ve never heard your unusual interpretation of that term used anywhere else.

          The only thing “country” about the Van Lear Rose album was Loretta because the musical accompaniment was not. Hard to listen to yes but hard country no.

          Emmylou’s “Wrecking Ball” album may have been a revelation to some but it was completely rejected by country fans. It failed to sell enough units to even enter the country album chart. But of course the critics – who are never country fans – loved it.

        • Razor X March 13, 2016 at 2:13 pm

          Wrecking Ball is also a terrible album.

  6. Tyler Pappas March 13, 2016 at 2:57 pm

    lol I love the “Wrecking Ball” album. Country it’s not but it’s still great music.

    • the_trouble_with_the_truth March 13, 2016 at 4:50 pm

      I just wanted to point out the Wrecking Ball was not eligible for the country charts back in 1995. Just like with certain artist today, Billboard decided it could not be included on the country Chart. It did hit the Top 100 on the Billboard 200 which is a testament to it in fact being a hit album.

      • Jonathan Pappalardo March 13, 2016 at 8:36 pm

        I read somewhere it wasn’t eligible for the country charts because Emmylou Harris didn’t want it to be. She felt it wasn’t country so therefore it shouldn’t be on the country charts. I play ‘Sweet Old World’ all the time. That track is gorgeous. I completely agree with Tyler’s take on the album.

        • luckyoldsun March 14, 2016 at 4:26 am

          Years ago, Billboard’s album charts were more impressionistic than data driven, so the same albums could appear in different orders on the overall album chart and on the country album chart. But by the time that “Wrecking Ball” came out in 1995, both charts were based on Soundscan sales data so albums appeared in the same order on both charts.
          Per Wikipedia, “Wrecking Ball” Emmylou Harris’s highest charting album in 15 years on the overall Top 200 album chart. That tells me that you must be right: The fact that “Wrecking Ball” did not make the country chart at all–while all of Harris’s previous albums did–must be because Elektra Records chose not to classify the album as country. It was not because the album had poor sales.

        • Ken March 14, 2016 at 10:13 am

          The Wrecking Ball album peaked at #94 on the pop album chart where it spent a meager seven weeks. It’s window of maximum sales did not even extend two full months. By any measure that album was not even a commercial success at that time. Albums with a maximum chart rank in the 90’s are not selling substantial quantities and are likely being purchased primarily by an artist’s core fan base.

          And luckyoldsun as usual has again posted more misinformation here. To be clear, the Billboard album charts were never “impresssionistic.” They were always based upon the sales information supplied to them by their monitored retail outlets. Though not as precise as Soundscan bar code tracking each retail outlet did track their sales so they knew how many units they sold each week as part of their most basic inventory control. Albums may have appeared in different rank order on the country album chart vs the overall pop album chart because the monitored retail outlets were not the same for all genres. Albums competed in different universes. In the country music retail outlet sector a Merle Haggard or Buck Owens album may have sold more units than a Glen Campbell album which would account for the different ranking. With the adoption of Soundscan sales from all sources were aggregated and it eliminated those inconsistencies.

        • luckyoldsun March 14, 2016 at 7:21 pm

          Ken, I hate to break this to you, but this time, you’re the one who posted m-m-m-m-misinformation.

          You stated that Emmylou Harris’s “Wrecking Ball” “failed to sell enough units to even enter the country album chart.” That’s simply w-w-w-w-wrong. As was noted by Mr. Pappalardo, “Wrecking Ball” did not enter the Country Albums chart because it was not classified as a country album–not because it did not sell enough units. (That happens to be the exact same reason that Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” never entered the Country Albums chart, for those scoring at home.)

          If one were to peruse the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart for the week in September or October 1995 where “Wrecking Ball” was the #96-top-selling album in the U.S., one could actually count how many of the albums ahead of it on the chart were country albums. I would guess that in that era, probably 15-20 of the albums in the top 95 positions would have been country albums. If, say, 18 of the albums ahead of “Wrecking Ball” were country albums, that means that “Wrecking Ball” sold enough units to be the #19 album on the Country Albums chart and would have been #19 on the Country Albums chart, had Elektra Records asked that it be classified as country. Simple as that.

  7. Stan Zorin March 13, 2016 at 5:03 pm

    @ Ken – 1 – The Hard Country you refer to is just Country, plain and simple. The term is exact and it does not need to be paired with another word. It is the derivatives of Country music and the musical side roads of and experiments of the Country music style and sound that need to be paired with adjectives, in order to distinguish them from the Country music as such. But the little me in the music universe cannot dictate the terminology and if ‘Hard Country’ is the term much in use then I can not tell others to drop its use.
    Loretta Lynn referred to ‘Van Lear Rose’ album as, “as Country as I am”, if some reports are to be believed. She probably meant genuine and immediate and honest and without studio artificiality – as genuine as a simple Country band could be, playing in some pub in Virginia or Kentucky hill town. Some songs on ‘Van Lear Rose’ are recordings of the first and only take.
    Loretta’s words : “This [album] is really gonna shake ’em up.”
    1 – http://www.lorettalynn.com/loretta-lynn-and-jack-white-talk-about-van-lear-rose/
    Loretta’s words : “That’s the country-est album I’ve ever done”
    2 – http://americansongwriter.com/2011/01/behind-the-lyric-loretta-lynn-portland-oregon/
    And this good summing up : http://www.allmusic.com/album/van-lear-rose-mw0000697728
    I agree that ‘Van Lear Rose’ is not 100% Country [particularly the song ‘Portland, Oregon’] when contrasted with the established sound and style of the genre but also we have to see that if a musical figure as big as her considers it Country enough then we should adjust our parameters of judging and accept the most of the album as a variation of the Country.
    Another important consideration – the mainstream “Country” has hit the wall of dereliction of duty and is in a state of creative crisis. There are attempts, on the periphery, to go some other way musically, away from the Big MacCountry. The sound of ‘Van Lear Rose’ has been explored and adapted. This heavier style of Country Music may become an important style in the future if the mainstream Country degenerates further. Check this :
    1 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6ikqNlXv-8
    2 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TrElM2taz34
    As for the ‘Wrecking Ball’, EmmyLou Harris never described it as a Country music album and never pretended it is. For her it is a Folk / Roots music and the album won the Grammy award as the best contemporary Folk music album, albeit with a ‘heavy’ sound. Therefore I do not understand why there were so many Country folks upset with it. The album is fabulous, by the way.

  8. Razor X March 14, 2016 at 10:17 am

    Does anyone remember buying an album in the pre-Soundscan days? The checkout clerk would record it on a manual log before ringing it up.

  9. the_trouble_with_the_truth March 14, 2016 at 4:53 pm

    I wish I knew as much as @Ken thinks he knows.

  10. Leeann March 14, 2016 at 10:16 pm

    Full Circle is a great album and Loretta sounds better than she’s sounded in years!

    As for hard country, I’ll admit that I’ve never heard that term before now. I’ve heard of hardcore country, but not hard country.

    • Razor X March 15, 2016 at 12:06 am

      I’ve actually not heard the term before, either. Van Lear Rose and Wrecking Ball were disappointments to a lot of people because they simply were not what they expected from Loretta Lynn and Emmylou Harris. That’s what happens when artists experiment with different styles — not everyone is going to like it. And that’s OK.

      This has been an interesting discussion but I’d really like to hear more about what people thought about Full Circle and less about what they thought of Van Lear Rose and Wrecking Ball.

  11. Pingback: Occasional Hope’s top 10 albums of 2016 | My Kind of Country

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