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Loretta Lynn album review


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  • 3 months later...

Here is Pitchfork's review - high marks:

Loretta Lynn

Van Lear Rose

[interscope; 2004]

Rating: 9.3

Like so many honky-tonk singers of her own and previous generations, Loretta Lynn was always a little country-come-to-town, a rural-raised girl in the big city whose pre-fame struggles lent her music grit and authenticity. Born in a Kentucky mining town called Butcher Hollow, a teenage bride and a mother several times over before she even arrived in Nashville, Lynn sang with a hill-country accent (notably different from typical Music Row stars) and with the unchecked candor of her toughening experiences. In this smoothly defiant voice, she sang of her man's and her own cheating ways, as well as the hardships of motherhood, wifehood, and celebrity as if each were one and the same-- and they probably were.

In Nashville, she was a rough in the diamond: Her hard-edged songs like "Fist City" and "Rated X" were backed by pristine countrypolitan production-- mostly courtesy of Owen Bradley-- which helped sell her to a wide audience. At the same time, the disparity between her voice and her accompaniment created a fascinating rural/urban friction that never let listeners forget that she was less a superstar than a small-town girl at heart. Crucial to her image and her success, the depth of Lynn's noncelebrity is perhaps why her old material still bristles and burrs even today.

On her new album, Van Lear Rose, producer and admirer Jack White (who dedicated White Blood Cells to Lynn in 2001) immediately erases that friction with a rawer, in-one-take live sound that adds texture to her songs without overpowering her voice. White's intention isn't to update or revise Lynn's music or her persona, but simply to recast her voice in a new setting, to make her sound like she's right back in Butcher Hollow.

To this end, White has corralled a backing band that consists not of Nashville veterans, but of young 'uns from the decidedly non-rural locales of Detroit and Cincinnati. Dubbed the Do Whaters by Lynn ("I named them that because they got in there and did whatever we needed them to!" she explains in the liner notes), the group consists of The Greenhornes' rhythm section Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler, with Blanche's Dave Feeny adding elegant pedal steel and slide guitar flourishes. Together, they prove a dynamic backing band, able to set a warm country atmosphere but not afraid to make some rock noise.

And they do just that on the first single, "Portland, Oregon". Lynn and White exchange verses about sloe gin fizzes and drunk lovin', recalling her adultery duets with Conway Twitty but with more of a boisterous sound, courtesy of White's Zep blues riffs. On "Mrs. Leroy Brown", the band bang out a bar-stormer to match Lynn's adventures riding around town in a pink limousine. Even bigger than that limo, though, is the unmistakable smile on her face as she disses her man and his floozy: "I just drawed all your money out of the bank today/ Honey, you don't have no mo'."

If Van Lear Rose recasts Lynn's sound, it also revisits the subject matter of her earlier hits, following her stories through to their sometimes dire ends in songs like "Women's Prison" and "Family Tree". But on the album's most memorable songs, Lynn tells her own story, singing in no other voice but her own, and it still soars with surprising grace and with all the sass and intimacy of her younger self. Most ofVan Lear Rose is autobiographical, relating her life in both Butcher Hollow and Nashville with evocative detail and steady candor. The title track, for example, recalls her father's stories about her mother and "how her beauty ran deep down to her soul." Her voice trembles with a tender, nostalgic wistfulness, especially when she remembers how the miners teased her dad: "You're dreamin', boy, she'll never look your way/ You'll never ever hold the Van Lear Rose."

After the spoken-word reminiscence "Little Red Shoes" and the devastating widow's lament "Miss Being Mrs.", Van Lear Rose ends with "Story of My Life", which is exactly what its title purports. The coal miner's daughter happily relates the events of her life-- early marriage, motherhood, stardom-- leading up to the present, but instead of dwelling on hardship and tragedy, she sounds satisfied, even joyful. It's perhaps a testament to her modesty that she winds up this autobiography in less than three minutes, but by song's end, her contentment feels undeniably hard-won and admirable: "I have to say that I've been blessed/ Not bad for a country girl, I guess."

Lynn's triumphant return on Van Lear Rose isn't exactly unprecedented: Ten years ago, Johnny Cash won a younger audience with the Rick Rubin-produced American Recordings, and George Jones, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, and Willie Nelson have all released strong albums late in their careers. Nor is it surprising that fans would flock to such sturdy music, that critics would celebrate such a comeback or pursue such a great story. But the rating above does not reflect critical sentiment as much as it does critical amazement: Van Lear Rose is remarkably bold, celebratory and honest. It's a homecoming for a small-town musician gifted with poise, humor and compassion, but at its very heart, it's happy to be just a kick-ass country record.

-Stephen Deusner, April 30th, 2004

http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/record-revie...lear-rose.shtml

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