Album: Van Lear Rose

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Album:

Van Lear Rose

Artist: Loretta Lynn
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Label: Interscope Records

Garage-rock hero Jack White producing honky-tonk legend Loretta Lynn? And Lynn comparing him to renowned Nashville producer Owen Bradley? Yes, we all know the world is rapidly shrinking, but now we’ve seen everything. Most stunning of all—they nailed it. For the first time, Lynn has written all of an album’s songs, and her lyrics are as cutting and incisive as ever. On the powerful, biting “Family Tree,” she brings her babies to the home of her husband’s mistress so that they can see the “woman that’s burning down our family tree.” Throughout she cunningly…

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Garage-rock hero Jack White producing honky-tonk legend Loretta Lynn? And Lynn comparing him to renowned Nashville producer Owen Bradley? Yes, we all know the world is rapidly shrinking, but now we’ve seen everything. Most stunning of all—they nailed it. For the first time, Lynn has written all of an album’s songs, and her lyrics are as cutting and incisive as ever. On the powerful, biting “Family Tree,” she brings her babies to the home of her husband’s mistress so that they can see the “woman that’s burning down our family tree.” Throughout she cunningly tackles tried-and-true honky-tonk themes of love gone bad, drinkin’, cheatin’, and murder. Lynn even offers a compelling slice of theological fatalism (“God Makes No Mistakes”). White’s production—mostly stark and atmospheric—ranges from more-traditional country to straight-up White Stripes, with most tracks falling somewhere in between. White duets with Lynn on the rousing one-night-stand story “Portland, Oregon,” but he does not need to sing to leave his personal stamp. At 70, Lynn seems thoroughly engaged and delighted; at times she delivers some of the most emotionally potent singing of her career. A decade earlier, Johnny Cash turned to rock and rap producer Rick Rubin, and the move resuscitated Cash’s career. Now, Jack White has done the same for Loretta Lynn, another country legend whose music is simply too raw and honest for the contemporary country crowd. Van Lear Rose exceeds all expectations—a bold collaboration in which artists from two different musical universes forge a memorable work that neither could have created alone. —Marc Greilsamer

Keeping with the grand new tradition of country music stars breathing new life into the latter parts of their careers, Loretta Lynn’s Van Lear Rose finds the coal miner’s daughter teaming up with White Stripes svengali Jack White, who produces, plays guitar and duets on “Portland Oregon” (where he’s easily outshined by Lynn). And, like the later work of Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton, the result is a resounding success.

White is a traditionalist at heart and he treats Lynn’s music with both respect and restraint; this is most definitely a country album, though it’s a rocking one. Pedal steel, dobro, banjo and fiddle are all here, alongside White’s blues-tinged electric guitar, but the star is Lynn’s voice: worn, warm and full of heart. Her storytelling abilities come to the fore on the title track, the album’s highlight, and her ability to spin a phrase in a country way is highlighted on songs like “Family Tree” (a tale of a wife confronting her husband’s lover) and the lament “Miss Being Mrs”. But really, there isn’t a dud track here, from the celebratory stomp of “High on a Mountain Top” to the restrained spiritual “God Makes No Mistakes”, to the accompanied spoken-story “Little Red Shoes”. White’s contribution should open Lynn’s music up to a well-deserved wider audience. Really, though, one would be hard-pressed to find a better album by this country legend. —Robert Burrow
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