Loretta Lynn is enjoying a creative renaissance in her 80s. Her latest album was originally expected more than a year ago, but its release was delayed due to health issues and Loretta wanting to able to promote it. Produced by Loretta’s daughter Patsy Lynn Russell and John Carter Cash, the long-awaited album has proved to be well worth waiting for. While Loretta’s voice is obviously not what it was in her 1960s/70s heyday, it is surprisingly strong for someone of her years, and actually better than in the 1980s.
Her songwriting skills are also still strong, and she wrote or co-wrote all but one of the 13 tracks. Admittedly, half are older songs, including enjoyable retreads of two of her signature songs – ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’ and ‘Don’t Come Home A Drinking’. There are also two obscure songs originally written and recorded at the dawn of Loretta’s career in 1960. ‘My Angel Mother’ is a pretty, gentle, folky song, and ‘Darkest Day’ is a classic country shuffle about a husband leaving – very nice.
The title song and lead single was originally recorded in the 1980s, and has a nice arrangement and a subdued but emotional vocal as Loretta bemoans an alcoholic husband. The simple faith of ‘God Makes No Mistakes’ made its first appearance on Loretta’s Van Lear Rose album in 2004, and is better here with a more sympathetic arrangement.
The one outside song is an even older one – traditional murder ballad ‘Lulie Vars’ which is very effective with a stripped down acoustic arrangement. (The song, originating from Kentucky where I presume Loretta heard the song as a child, and based on a real murder in 1917, is marginally better known as ‘Lula Viers’.) (Incidentally the real Lula was related to the famous Hatfield family.)
My favorite of the new songs is the delightful ‘Ruby’s Stool’, an amusing tale of misbehaviour and rivalry among an older generation of “honky tonk girls” who have not retired into a less combative way of life. Loretta wrote this with Shawn Camp, who also co-wrote ‘I’m Dying For Someone To Live For’, a lovely song about the loneliness of widowhood, with some very pretty mandolin; and also the charming gospel ‘The Big Man’, which I love.
Veteran songwriter Lola Jean Dillon teamed up with Loretta to write ‘Another Bridge To Burn’. This is a great song about moving on from a bad relationship to a better life:
I don’t suppose I’ll ever love him
Quite the way that I love you
When he sleeps into my dreams
I don’t wake up feeling blue
What we don’t have in common
We make up for in concern…
Through the years I’ve cried a river
One teardrop at a time
I kept that old bridge standing strong
Just in case you changed your mind
I can’t live on dreams for ever
At least reality returns
With his hand in mine we’ll light the aflame
You’re another bridge it’s time to burn
Daughter Patsy co-wrote two songs. ‘Ain’t No Time To Go’, a delicate appeal to a loved one to live, is rather charming with some delightful folky fiddle. ‘These Ole Blues’ has a lovely Hank Williams style vibe about it.
I didn’t necessarily have high hopes for this record beforehand, but it has been a positive revelation. Loretta Lynn really is a living legend of country music, and this is a very fine album.