Published Mar 04, 2016Loretta Lynn brings it down a number of notches on Full Circle, her first album since 2004's rollicking double Grammy-award winning Jack White collaboration Van Lear Rose, but at 83 years old (nearly 84), the author of Coal Miner's Daughter is still telling her life story through song.
The spoken intro to "Whispering Sea" — which she says is the first song she ever wrote, and is also the first song on the new album — sets an intimate tone, with Lynn talking about her early recording experiences before ending her anecdote with, "let it rip, boys."
Though there are plenty of pickers on the record (there are about ten of them sometimes at the Cash Cabin Studio in Hendersonville, TN, where Full Circle was recorded) the effect is subdued and focused; this record, maybe even more so than her others, is a showcase for Lynn's voice.
And what a voice it is. Here, Lynn moves from her woodsiest roots — she spins a classic Appalachian yarn over banjo on "Black Jack David," her voice echoing out in a shadowy a cappella ending to "In The Pines" and sounding like it's from a different time on the Carter Family's "I Never Will Marry" (a lullaby-like mournful autoharp waltz that's very quiet and very pretty) — to soulful torch songs full of melisma (soul was always part of what Lynn was doing), especially on "Always On My Mind" and the nostalgic, cinematic and stately "Secret Love."
Yet when the arrangements veer more towards country, something clicks with Lynn. You can hear the early influence of Kitty Wells in the restraint and clarity with which Lynn sings songs like "Band Of Gold" over plinky piano, and something in the arrangement of "Wine Into Water" recalls Johnny Cash (Full Circle was produced by Lynn's daughter, Patsy Lynn Russell and Cash's son, John Carter Cash).
As good as the covers are, the best songs on Full Circle are the ones that Lynn had a hand in writing, or wrote entirely herself. You can hear it in the ease with which she steps into "Who's Gonna Miss Me?" as if it's as easy as breathing, offering the illusion that she's not even singing, merely talking to you when she asks "Who's gonna miss me when I'm gone?" She reprises one of her biggest hits on the album, which is literally about hitting — "Fist City" (maybe a little less angrily, the sting of the threat toned down) — and does a rousing, bluesy country gospel song from the mid-'60s called "Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven," which is really a feisty statement about loving life here on earth.
But it's on a new song, a duet with Elvis Costello, that Lynn nails the secret recipe of country best, returning to the perennial topic of cheating: "Everything It Takes" is quietly hurt and mad, with enough humorous, cutting lines thrown in to make it entertainment ("She's cold as ice, but you still think she's hot," Lynn sings, wryly). You've got to draw from real experience to get a performance like that.
Full Circle closes with "Lay Me Down," a beautifully mellow duet with Willie Nelson (just guitar and voice) featuring the words "When I was a child I cried." There's something of the child Lynn and the Lynn of all ages here, and it's more touching for it. (Legacy)