Forget the circus surrounding abandoned royals Meghan and Harry, real royal class is on display when the Queen of Country Music Loretta Lynn teams up with other blue bloods of the genre to produce yet another class album Still Woman Enough.
The Royal House of Cash is even represented, with Johnny’s son John Carter Cash co-producing the album with Lynn’s daughter Patsy Lynn Russell, who also co-wrote the title tune with her mother.
And you can add some big country names with royal aspirations. There is vocal collaboration from Tanya Tucker, Reba McEntire, Carrie Underwood and Margo Price. There are also some of the best studio musicians in Nashville – from the likes of Randy Scruggs (guitar) and Shawn Camp (guitar and mandolin) to Jamie Hartford (electric guitar and banjo) and Larry Perkins (banjo).
Some might say any 88-year-old artist producing her 50th studio album may indeed need support from the very best cast available. But there is absolutely nothing in this album to suggest it is the work of an octogenarian. Her voice still soars with wonderful clarity and she hits every note, emotional et al. And just to make a point, she revisits many of her classic songs, begging out for critical comparisons.
This is an album of interpretation, not just of her own hits, but of pure American classics like Stephen Foster’s “My Old Kentucky Home,” A.P. Carter’s “Keep On The Sunny Side” and Hank Williams’ gospel standard “I Saw The Light.”
But the album actually kicks off with the one original tune, title-track “Still Woman Enough,” which, as the country purists know, was the title of her memoir released in 2002. This is a bluesy number, with McEntire and Underwood taking a verse each as the song transcends Lynn’s life, just as her biography did:
Well I’ve been through some bad times
Been on the bottom, been at the top
And I’ve seen life from both sides
It’s what you make with what you’ve got
But it is indeed her most biographical song that sees Lynn at her innovative, transformational-best. For “Coal Miner’s Daughter” is turned into a glorious recitation with the solo backing of only a banjo, strumming the notes of “My Old Kentucky Home.” Close your eyes and imagine the sleepy hollows of old Kentucky!
And she continues to take us deep inside rural America with a sparse - yet soft and soothing - acoustic treatment of “My Old Kentucky Home.” It is simply mesmerizing. This theme continues with superb vocal arrangements of the Carter Family’s “Keep on the Sunny Side” and “I’ll Be All Smiles Tonight” - enough to bring out a shuffle from Sara, Maybelle and A.P. on heaven’s dance floor.
The gospel tunes are also tailor-made for her everlasting voice. She bounces through “I Saw The Light,” aided by the best musicians in the business, and slows it down somewhat for a simply stunning rendition of the Mosie Lister classic “Where No One Stands Alone” – helped by Tony Harrell’s gentle piano arrangement.
But it is her collaboration with Margo Price and Tanya Tucker which reveals the real take-no-prisoners Loretta Lynn.
In 1971, Lynn had a number one hit and Grammy nomination for her album-title track “One’s On The Way,” a song written by wordsmith Shel Silverstein. It served as an anthem for the emerging feminism of the seventies, with versus like:
I'm glad that Raquel Welch just signed a million dollar pact
And Debbie's out in Vegas workin' up a brand new act
While the TV's showin' newlyweds, a real fun game to play
But here in Topeka, the screen door's a bangin'
The coffee's boilin' over and the wash needs a hangin'
One wants a cookie and one wants a changin'
And one's on the way
It was a song Price was particularly keen to collaborate on. She told The Bluegrass Situation: ” I chose ‘One’s On The Way’ because it’s an important song. It was an important song at the time and it’s still an important song; to be able to talk about birth control and women’s rights in country music is legendary.”
The album ends with Lynn and Tucker combining to counter-punch on “You Ain’t Woman Enough.” Their vocal stoush takes one back to another generation of Nashville music, or, in Lynn’s case, should that be generations?
She is simply timeless.
Editor Crossroads – Americana Music Appreciation