Album of the Week: Loretta Lynn Full Circle

On February 29, 2016

Every week, we tell you about a new album we think you should spend time with. This week’s album is Loretta Lynn's Full Circle

Depending on how you count compilations and collaborations as part of an artist's whole discography, this is something like the 69th Loretta Lynn album. She's 83 now, and has been recording pretty steadily since 1963, which works out to an album about every nine months over that span. Which is strangely poetic, that time frame, because Lynn rose to fame in the '60s for being the only woman who talked about the real shit working class women were dealing with in the 1960s: shitty men were always trying to wife you up, you liked boning the neighbor better, and you were left raising kids you maybe didn't want in the first place. She made songs about being terrified she had another kid coming when she and her shitty husband couldn't afford the kids they had, she made a song called "The Pill" about taking birth control, and she constantly did badass shit like call her husband/manager for filth in her autobiography, while she was still married to him.

Which is to say, Loretta Lynn has a new album out, and that album is fantastic.

This is technically Lynn's second "comeback" album this century: she's done only 2 albums since 2000, and one of them was Van Lear Rose, the first Lynn album anyone outside of Nashville paid attention to since 1985. That album has become something of a country classic for people who don't listen to country; real heads will tell you how Jack White's production, though emphasizing Lynn's voice via its stark blues-indie-ness, actually excised the appealingly delicately constructed and sometimes schlocky backing music that accompanied Lynn successfully for years. Her voice is beautiful, but it has a rural edge, and pairing her sometimes radical, always feminist message with music that wouldn't be out of place on Howdy Doody always made her lyrcis hit harder.

Which is to say I prefer Full Circle to Van Lear Rose, mostly because it sounds way more like the Loretta Lynn albums my grandma was shuffling around a Wausau bar to in 1978. The barroom piano is back, the plucked mandolins are back, the folkier instrumentation that sounds like the Appalachians are back, and the superfluous covers of stuff like "Always on My Mind" are back too. She shares time with Willie Nelson and Elvis Costello on separate tracks here, but I forgot they were here till I checked the credits. She bodies "Tall Pines" like no one else has since Nirvana. She plays with your expectations of her mortality here, with songs like "Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven," "Lay Me Down," and "Who's Gonna Miss Me?," but also kicks ass and has tons of vitality on stuff like "I Will Never Marry" and "Black Jack David." Her voice is stronger than any 83-year-old out; and she's stronger vocally than most of the women who are "saving" country music right now. For my money, this is the best comeback album of her career; I hope the people who dug Van Lear Rose cape for this too.

It's tempting, when artists get up in age, to start painting this new album in how we view Lynn's legacy overall. She is 83, after all. She's already the greatest female performer in the history of country music, and you could make a strong case she's in the discussion for best ever against Hank, Johnny, and George. But Lynn has no plans of slowing down; she apparently recorded 100 songs for this album, and is doing shows all year. She has enough material for like 6-7 more of these albums. I hope she gets to make even more of them.

You can stream Full Circle at NPR. 

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Profile Picture of Andrew Winistorfer
Andrew Winistorfer

Andrew Winistorfer is VMP’s Classics & Country Director, and a writer and editor of their books, 100 Albums You Need In Your Collection and The Best Record Stores In The United States. He’s written Listening Notes for more than 20 VMP releases, and co-produced the VMP Anthologies The Story of Philadelphia International Records, The Story of Quincy Jones, The Story of Impulse and the VMP Classics release of Nat Turner Rebellion's Laugh to Keep From Crying, and executive produced the VMP Anthology The Story of Vanguard. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

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