Release Date: Mar 4, 2016
Record label: Sony Music
Genre(s): Country, Alt-Country, Americana, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Progressive Country, Traditional Country
Loretta Lynn needs no one’s approval. The Nashville legend has had more than enough hits, won more than enough awards, inspired more than enough affection throughout her 55-year reign as the Queen Of Country to be able to ignore criticism and praise alike. Still, it has to be said, Full Circle is a magnificent record. Billed as a retrospective journey through her musical history, Full Circle is her first studio record since 2004’s Van Lear Rose, the thrilling collaboration with Jack White.
When Loretta Lynn teamed up with Jack White on her last album Van Lear Rose (2004) the results surpassed all expectations. As superficially unlikely as the White/Lynn collaboration may have appeared on paper, the record played to the strengths of both artists while generating an exciting and dramatic tension. Combining punchy rock ‘n’ roll flourishes with intimate acoustic moments that served Lynn’s heart-on-sleeve story-telling style equally well, the album came out swinging, with White’s roots affiliations complementing and stretching the approach of an artist who may once have declared “If you’re looking at me, you’re looking at country”, but whose attitude and game-changing lyrics always had a good deal of rock grit beneath them.
For most legendary artists, there comes a point when the past eclipses the future. It’s a time for reissues of classic albums, for B-sides and rarities collections, for the cleaning out of musical closets at the urging of loyal fanatics who never stop wanting more. At best, these releases add nuance to already rich catalogs, providing greater context for defining works from our most important artists.
It’s surely with one eye on Johnny Cash’s legacy-sealing valedictory burst of creativity that Loretta Lynn, now 83, has asked his son, John Carter Cash, and her daughter, Patsy Lynn Russell, to be joint producers of Full Circle, apparently the first in a series of releases. The queen of country’s first album since 2004’s Van Lear Rose opens with a re-recording of the first song she ever wrote, then works through a selection of standards (Always On My Mind, In the Pines) and career highlights(Fist City). The newly written material, equally powerful, includes the standout Wine Into Water, a drinker’s plea to God, and climaxes with Lay Me Down, a duet with fellow octogenarian Willie Nelson about facing life’s final curtain.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that Loretta Lynn, even over half a century into her musical career, has made another strong album. There are few to zero significant aberrations in the Kentucky-born country singer's 55-strong discography; no arranger or producer (admittedly, she mostly stuck with the same one) has ever managed to obfuscate her deeply ingrained musical personality, which is always a little bigger than the specific song she is singing. Most of her albums—her last, 2004's Jack White-produced Van Lear Rose, being the primary outlier—only feature three or four of her much-remarked-upon originals, and her latest, Full Circle, is no exception.
Full Circle is no accidental title for this, Loretta Lynn's first album after a 12-year break. Released as Lynn approaches her 83rd birthday, Full Circle not only deliberately returns the country legend to her Kentucky roots, it's constructed as a summation of her life. It opens with the first song she ever wrote -- a lovelorn waltz called "Whispering Sea" -- and runs through old folk tunes she sang as a child, revisits hits she had in her prime, and adds new tunes to her repertoire, all the while acknowledging that she's closer to the end of her life than the beginning.
For Loretta Lynn's first album since 2004's Van Lear Rose, her startlingly great 2004 collaboration with Jack White and his crew, the iconic queen of no-bullshit country music, now 83, looks more backwards than forwards. Culled from a decade's worth of sessions and co-produced by John Carter Cash – Johnny's son, whose diapers Lynn changed back in the day – Full Circle is a homey set, with few new songs and no May-December duets or hotshot young rockers, Elvis Costello notwithstanding. There are well-travelled traditional numbers – "Black Jack David," popularized by the Carter Family, and Kurt Cobain's beloved "In The Pines" – that one could imagine being sung in a sitting room down in Butcher Holler.
Three songs into Loretta Lynn’s first album in more than a decade, the feisty trailblazer plaintively asks, “Who’s gonna miss me when I’m gone?” To the world, the answer is a no-brainer. But the hard-to-miss ache in her voice each time she repeats the refrain reveals that, for all her blunt talk and hard truths, even the queen of country music and Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree doubts the certainty of her own immortality. At 83 years old, Lynn is a treasure.
Loretta Lynn is an 83-year-old badass. For proof, hear the legendary Coal Miner's Daughter reinterpret one of her earliest singles, "Fist City." Lynn sings the tune, originally penned in 1968, with renewed conviction on her aptly titled new album, Full Circle, tossing off lyrics about clobbering a rival for her lover's heart with steadfast and sly self-assurance. She's also fearless enough to cover longtime Willie Nelson classic "Always On My Mind," in a version that rivals the original, before featuring her fellow octogenarian on not his own song, but instead the closing track "Lay Me Down" (penned by obscure scribe Mark Marchetti), upstaging the Red-Headed Stranger all the while.
Loretta Lynn is a country music icon, rightly famed for those gutsy, no-nonsense songs of female fury that shook up Nashville in the 1960s and 70s. Her 2004 album Van Lear Rose was a bravely successful alt-country collaboration with Jack White, and now, at last, comes the follow-up. It’s less experimental but still impressive, for Lynn, who is 83, is in remarkably powerful voice, mixing nostalgia with new songs.
Twelve years have evaporated since Loretta Lynn's last LP, a shocking measure of restraint for a singer who's cranked out over 50 albums since she taught herself to play guitar as a young married teen in the Fifties. Full Circle, then, could be her swan song if she never cuts another. Unlike the double Grammy-winning, Jack White-produced comeback Van Lear Rose from 2004, the now 83-year-old Kentuckian returns to her own version of country's great American songbook.
A documentary dedicated to the pride of Butcher Hollow, Ky. , airs Friday on PBS, and Loretta Lynn’s new album, “Full Circle,” backs up the film’s title: “Still a Mountain Girl. ” Through 13 glorious tracks spanning back-porch hootenanny sessions to countrypolitan elegance, Lynn proves that at 83 she’s a national treasure who still exudes the earthiness of her rural roots.