Monday, 31 January 2011

Revelatory Loretta Lynn



In 2004, the iconic country and western singer Loretta Lynn, then in her seventies, teamed up with the twenty-nine year old Jack White of the bluesy heavy rock duo The White Stripes. A more unlikely pairing would be difficult to think of. Yet the outcome was a stunning piece of “country rock”. While Loretta Lynn wrote all but one of the songs on the album, Jack White produced and played on all the tracks. In a review for Amazon.co.uk, I described the album as revelatory and gave it nine out of ten.

Loretta Lynn - Van Lear Rose

This album is a revelation. The opening title track starts like a thousand other country songs until heavy guitar, rumbling bass and thumping rock drumming kick in as Loretta's voice soars and you know you're listening to something utterly new. A few years ago Emmylou Harris took country music to new heights with her album Wrecking Ball when she chose to be produced by Daniel Lanois, the Canadian who's arranged a lot of U2's best music. This album is quite different in style but, with the production and musical assistance of one of The White Stripes, achieves the same in pushing back musical frontiers.

Loretta's vocals are so strong - she's 70 years of age! - and the songs are the usual stuff of country music - broken relationships, poverty, desperation, drinking and murder. The more traditional sounding songs with just her voice, guitar, pedal-steel guitar and fiddle are particularly well played and produced. Even two gospel-tinged songs, “Have Mercy” and “High on a Mountain Top”, are given highly innovative productions. “Little Red Shoes” could be described as a kind of country rap - Loretta talking over a dreamy, bluesy riff about her mother buying her a pair of shoes when she was a child. On the track “Women's Prison”, about her being sent to jail for the murder of her cheating lover, simply listen to the music rise and fall and then finish off in a cacophony of distorted guitar. Revelatory.

Gram Parsons is said to have invented "country rock". Who would have thought that Loretta Lynn would be continuing that tradition in such a raucous fashion more than thirty years later. I'm sure that Johnny Cash would have loved this album. This is as country music can be.

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