My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: The White Stripes

Album Review: ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter: A Tribute to Loretta Lynn’

Multi-artist tribute albums are more often than not hit-or-miss; rarely does one like all of the contributing artists or their interpretations of the hits of the person being honored. Columbia Records’ newly released tribute to Loretta Lynn, marking her 50th anniversary as a country music artist, is no exception, although it does contain a fair share of surprises. I cringed when I saw certain names among the credits, but in a few instances found that their tracks were among the album’s highlights. Likewise, some of the tracks I was looking forward to were somewhat disappointing.

The opening track, performed by Gretchen Wilson, falls into the latter category. On the surface, “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)” seems like an ideal song for her, but her rendition surprisingly lacks the passion and spark that I was expecting. Instead, she sounds like a better-than-average amateur on karaoke night. Lucinda Williams’ take on “Somebody Somewhere (Don’t Know What He’s Missing Tonight)” was also a let-down. She slurs the lyrics so badly that I found myself wondering if she really had those few little drinks referred to in the first verse prior to entering the studio.

On the other hand, the album contains quite a few pleasant surprises, not the least of which is Faith Hill’s reading of “Love Is The Foundation”. I’ve never been a huge Faith fan, and I considered her contribution to 1998’s Tammy Wynette tribute album to be one of the lowlights of that uneven project. This time around, however, she proves that she can deliver the goods. Loretta praised Faith’s performance of the song recently, and after hearing it, I have to concur that it was quite good. I was more than apprehensive about the artists who from outside the world of country music. I’d never heard of Paramore before and was expecting not to like their take on “You Ain’t Woman Enough To Take My Man”, but instead found their stripped-down, acoustic guitar arrangement to be quite effective. The White Stripes’ recording of “Rated X”, recorded several years ago, is the track that can be credited with spawning the Van Lear Rose album. I’d not heard it before, and though they’re not quite my cup of tea, the song works much better than I thought it would.

There are, of course, some famous names that seem perfectly matched for such a project, that do not disappoint: Lee Ann Womack contributes “I’m A Honky Tonk Girl”, which sounds like it could have actually been recorded in 1960, when Loretta’s original version was released, and Reba McEntire’s “If You’re Not Gone Too Long” is the best offering in the collection. Reba manages to accomplish the near-impossible — putting her own stamp on a Loretta Lynn classic. Producer Buddy Cannon gives the old honky-tonk number a Western swing feel, which suits Reba perfectly, and The Time Jumpers — a band that includes Kenny Sears, Vince Gill and Paul Franklin, among others — are superb. If only Reba would include tracks like this on her own albums. The two Conway and Loretta duets that are included — “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man” performed by Alan Jackson and Martina McBride and “After The Fire Is Gone” performed by Steve Earle and Allison Moorer, with Moorer doing the heavy lifting — are also quite good.

Like most tribute albums, Coal Miner’s Daughter has its share of clunkers. In addition to the aforementioned Lucinda Williams track, Carrie Underwood’s “You’re Looking At Country” is sung with an affected and very exaggerated twang which is quite grating, and Kid Rock’s “I Know How” is simply unlistenable. Trust me, he does not know how.

The album closes with the title track, and Loretta’s signature song, performed by Loretta herself along with Miranda Lambert and Sheryl Crow and produced by John Carter Cash and Loretta’s daughter Patsy Lynn. Loretta is in good voice and more than holds her own against the two younger vocalists.

If I’d been in charge of overseeing this project, I’d have excluded a few names and included a few others that did not appear. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to include Paramore, and that indeed would have been a loss. Coal Miner’s Daughter isn’t without its flaws, but it is a more than adequate tribute to country music’s most important female artist and is well worth a listen.

Grade: B

Album Review: Loretta Lynn – ‘Van Lear Rose’

Van Lear Rose was to Loretta Lynn what the Rick Rubin-produced American Recordings were to Johnny Cash: a late-career release that earned almost universal critical acclaim and a resurgence in popularity. Released in 2004 and produced by Jack White of The White Stripes, it blends elements of alternative rock with Loretta’s brand of traditional country, and if nothing else, it is a bold experiment in bucking the mainstream musical trends of the 2000s. Loretta was the sole songwriter on twelve of the album’s thirteen tracks, and co-wrote the remaining track (“Little Red Shoes”) with White, marking the first time in her career that she had a hand in writing every song on an album.

Unfortunately, I can’t include myself in the considerably large camp that loves this album. While I don’t actively dislike it, I don’t share most critics’ opinion that the musical styles of Lynn and White always mesh well. The songs themselves are all solid and well written. The production is both the album’s greatest strength and its greatest flaw. White made a conscious effort to avoid the slick, cookie-cutter type of production that had become prevalent in 21st century Nashville, and for that I applaud him. However, at times the album is not quite polished enough, sounding like it was recorded in someone’s garage, and on a few occasions, White’s production choices are a distraction that overwhelm Loretta’s vocal performance, badly marring otherwise very good songs.

The title track is a perfect case in point. It tells the story of the courtship of Loretta’s parents. It starts off fairly quietly with Loretta singing with an electric guitar accompaniment. By the second verse, drums and some steel guitar licks are added to the mix. While not guilty of overproduction, it’s a tad too loud. I would have preferred a quieter, more acoustic arrangement similar to the treatment that “Miss Being Mrs.”, a song that appears near the end of the album, receives. On this track, Loretta talks about her loneliness that comes with widowhood, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar. The stripped-down arrangement is quite effective, and “Miss Being Mrs.” is easily the highlight of the album.

Another track on which the production becomes overwhelming is “Have Mercy”. While not lyrically deep, it’s a good song in which Loretta gives a remarkable vocal performance that finds her sounding much younger than her nearly 70 years, but it is ruined by the loud, indulgent rock-tinged production that dominates the final 40 or so seconds of the song. But perhaps the best example of the production getting in the way of the song is “Little Red Shoes.” On this track, the lyrics are spoken, rather than sung. It recalls a story that Loretta told in her second memoir, about a serious illness she suffered when she was a year old, and a pair of red shoes that Loretta’s desperate mother shoplifted because she couldn’t afford to buy them for her daughter. The poignancy of the story is totally lost due to White’s cluttered production which seems to be competing with, rather than accompanying, Lynn’s storytelling. It’s my least favorite track on the album, along with “Portland, Oregon”, a duet with Jack White that on which Loretta strays farther from her country roots than she ever had in the past. This track is not to my taste at all; it was downright jarring the first time I listened to it, but I’m apparently in the minority since the song won a Grammy for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals in 2005.

The remaining songs on the album are more conventional. It’s easy to imagine “God Makes No Mistakes” , “Women’s Prison”, “Trouble On The Line” and “Mrs Leroy Brown” appearing on Loretta’s 1970s albums, albeit in more polished form. “Family Tree” finds her treading familiar territory, confronting the other woman in her husband’s life. Unlike songs like “Fist City” and “You Ain’t Woman Enough To Take My Man”, “Family Tree” reveals a more mature Loretta, who isn’t looking for a fight this time around:

No, I didn’t come to fight
If he was a better man I might
But I wouldn’t dirty my hands on trash like you.
Bring out the babies’ daddy, that’s who they’ve come to see
Not the woman that’s burnin’ down our family tree

In addition to the aforementioned Grammy for Best Country Collaboration for Vocals, Van Lear Rose won the 2005 Grammy for Best Country Album. It reached #2 on the Billboard Country Albums chart, making it Loretta’s highest charting album since 1977’s I Remember Patsy, which also peaked at #2. Van Lear Rose also reached #24 on the Billboard 200, becoming the most successful crossover album of Loretta’s career, despite receiving no support from mainstream country radio.

Though Van Lear Rose is not my favorite Loretta Lynn album, both Loretta and Jack White deserve credit for their willingness to experiment instead of delivering a phoned-in performance, as many artists at this stage of their careers might have done. I have never tried harder to like an album than I have with this one. I thought that with repeated listenings, I’d come to appreciate it as much as everyone else seems to, but I’ve come to accept that many of the production choices are just not to my taste. If “Little Red Shoes” and “Portland, Oregon” could have been thrown out, and Owen Bradley brought back from the dead to produce the remaining tracks, I probably would have loved it. However, despite its flaws, it is an important entry in Loretta’s discography and stands as a testament to the fact that it’s never too late to break the mold and experiment a little.

Van Lear Rose is readily available from Amazon and iTunes.

Grade: B-

Spotlight Artist: Loretta Lynn (Part 2)

The 1970s were Loretta Lynn’s most productive and most successful decade. She opened the decade by releasing her signature hit “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and “After The Fire Is Gone”, the first of a long string of successful duets with Conway Twitty. In 1972, she won her second Female Vocalist of the Year award from the Country Music Association. She’d previously won in 1967; Tammy Wynette took the trophy home for the next three years, and in 1971 it was awarded to Lynn Anderson. Conway and Loretta also took home the Vocal Duo of the Year trophy in 1972, but the icing on the cake that year was when Loretta Lynn became the first female artist to become the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year. To commemorate the occasion, her label released an album in 1973 called Entertainer of the Year, which produced another #1 hit, “Rated X”. It was Loretta’s first release on the MCA label, which had purchased Decca and absorbed its artist roster. In 1973 she also became the first country artist to grace the cover of Newsweek.

The hits kept coming; it was during this period that Loretta released “One’s On The Way”, “I Wanna Be Free”, “You’re Lookin’ At Country”, and “Love Is The Foundation”, among others. In 1975 she released “The Pill”, her most controversial record, completely eclipsing the controversy that had surrounded “Rated X” two years earlier. Believed to be the first song about birth control, “The Pill” was considered very risque and was banned by many radio stations. Nevertheless, it managed to crack the Top 5.

During the early part of the 70s, Loretta severed her ties with the Wilburn Brothers. As her song publishers, they owned the rights to all of her compositions and Loretta saw very little in financial renumeration. While the matter was being fought out in court, Loretta stopped writing songs altogether, rather than to continue lining the Wiburns’ pockets. As a result, the music she released in the latter part of the 70s had a more polished, pop influenced sound in comparison to her earlier work.

In 1976, Loretta published her autobiography, Coal Miner’s Daughter, which became a New York Times bestseller. A film based on the book was released in 1980, earning some high-profile mainstream attention for Loretta, and an Academy Award for Sissy Spacek for her portrayal of the country star. Tommy Lee Jones co-starred as Mooney. As the 70s came to a close, she was named Artist of the Decade by the Academy of Country Music.

The 1980s were marred by the beginnings of a career decline and personal tragedy. It was the age of the Urban Cowboy, and Loretta’s style of country had begun to fall out of favor with country radio. Her records continued to chart, but she was no longer consistently making the Top 10 with her solo efforts. “I Lie” became her final Top 10 solo hit in 1982. She fought with her label, which wanted to push her in a more pop direction. She refused to renew her contract; MCA eventually relented, but by that time it was clear that Loretta’s reign at the top of the charts was over. She racked up her final Top 20 hit, “Heart Don’t Do This To Me” in 1985, and in 1988 she released her final album for MCA. That same year she was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

A few years earlier, in 1984, Loretta’s 34-year-old son, Jack Benny Lynn drowned in a river near the family ranch. In her second book, Loretta says that she believes she suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of this tragedy, but she did not receive any medical treatment for it. She became less focused on her career, and although she continued to tour, she recorded less frequently.

Loretta spent most of the 1990s out of the spotlight. She no longer had a record deal and she stopped touring for the most part in order to care for Mooney, whose health had begun to fail. In 1993 she collaborated with Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette for the Honky Tonk Angels album. Though it received virtually no radio airplay, the album reached #6 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and earned gold certification. In 1995 she did a brief series for TNN called Loretta Lynn & Friends. Mooney Lynn died in 1996 from complications from diabetes.

In 2000, Loretta released her first solo album in twelve years, titled Still Country. It was produced by Randy Scruggs and released on the Audium label. The lead single, “Country In My Genes”, on which she was joined by half of Nashville on the chorus, received enough airplay to reach #72 in Billboard. The subsequent singles, which included “I Can’t Hear The Music”, which she’d written as a tribute to Mooney, did not chart. Despite being largely ignored by country radio, the album was generally well received by critics. However, it was her next album, 2004’s Van Lear Rose, that is considered her true comeback. Produced by Jack White of the White Stripes, it was an interesting fusion of country and alternative rock and a radical departure from her previous work. At nearly 70 years of age, Loretta Lynn was suddenly hip again. Van Lear Rose earned her two Grammy Awards in 2005: one for Best Country Album, and one for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals for “Portland, Oregon”, a duet with producer Jack White.

In between Still Country and Van Lear Rose, Loretta found time to publish a second autobiography, Still Woman Enough in 2002. In 2001, CMT ranked her at #3, behind Patsy Cline (#1) and Tammy Wynette (#2) on their 40 Greatest Women of Country Music special. She was a Kennedy Center Honors recipient in 2003, and in 2008 she was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. She received a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2010.

At age 75, Loretta is showing no signs of slowing down. She remains a concert draw and is reportedly working on two new albums which will tentatively be released later this year, though no dates have been announced.

The term legend is used much too freely these days, but Loretta Lynn truly belongs to an elite inner circle of performers, without whom it is difficult to imagine what country music would have been like. We hope that you will enjoy our look back at the life and career of a woman who has become an American icon, and who is arguably the most important female artist in the history of country music.