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.