Let’s just level with ourselves. Loretta Lynn is such a legend, and her presence looms so large, we’re all relegated to just fawning rubes in her mere company, and it matters not what she does for us to be rendered enamored. She could walk into the studio, flip open the Yellow Pages (do they still make those?), and start an album off with a spirited belting of “AAA Automotive Repair, 1-800…” and we’d all probably shower it with plaudits. At 88-years-old (89 next month), she’s earned that latitude.
The fact that Loretta Lynn is still with us is grace enough, especially after the merciless culling of souls we experienced over the last year from the ranks of country music royalty. But without any hyperbole or bias, after listening to her latest album Still Woman Enough, even at her advanced age, Loretta Lynn still sounds excellent, seeming to be unscathed by a long and hard life, her protracted marriage to the dithering and dearly-departed Doolittle, and a stroke she suffered in 2017, however mild.
Still Woman Enough is less a deep contribution of new and original songs to her catalog, and more a living career retrospective of her esteemed legacy. You have new versions of old Loretta Lynn classics such as “You Ain’t Woman Enough,” “One on the Way,” and her first ever single, “Honky Tonk Girl.” You have renditions of standards from the American songbook such as “Keep on the Sunny Side,” “Old Kentucky Home,” and “I Saw The Light.”
But of the old material done new, the spoken recitation of “Coal Miner’s Daughter” might be the most resonant and memorable. With minimal accompaniment, the words seem to take on a completely different meaning—less celebratory or braggadocios, and more declarative. It brings out the pain behind the poetry of this iconic Loretta Lynn composition, and puts into perspective just what a treasure her life’s story is.
It’s not just Loretta Lynn’s singing (and speaking) that impresses. One of the selling points of the record is the collaborations it includes. Representing three generations of generational voices in country music, Reba McEntire and Carrie Underwood combine with Loretta to perform the opening title track “Still Woman Enough,” which lets you know no matter how much time has passed, Loretta still has plenty of pluck, panache, and love to give.
Margo Price, who’s always paired well with Loretta, turns in a rousing performance of “One’s on the Way” for the new record, as does Tanya Tucker for the final track, a reprise of “You Ain’t Woman Enough.” But the piece of music from Still Woman Enough that might impress the most is the performance Loretta Lynn turns in for the challenging Gospel song “Where No One Stands Alone.” Done definitively by Elvis, it’s just as much an Olympic challenge as it is a song, and Loretta sticks the landing.
With the job Loretta does singing on the new record, you do wonder why her reluctance to record more new and original material, penned by herself or others. The song market out there for traditional country artists is still strong, and Loretta is said to continue to dabble in writing, with a catalog of songs still in her back pocket. Perhaps that’s on the way, but it would have been nice to hear Loretta sing some more stuff we haven’t heard her sing before, if she’s up for it of course.
But Still Woman Enough is still effective at swelling love in your heart, and nostalgia in your soul for this Queen of Country Music that future generations will marvel that we got to share our time on Earth with.
1 1/2 Guns Up (7.5/10)
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