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Diamonds from Coal

 

Loretta Lynn: Van Lear Rose

Interscope, 2004

Rating: 4.7

 

 

Posted: April 29, 2004

By Laurence Station

Van Lear Rose, Loretta Lynn's first album in four years, sounds like a birthday gift to herself. Reflecting on a lifetime of triumphs and travails, Lynn (who turned 70 on April 14) has crafted the most personally felt, universally inclusive record of her career. Benefiting enormously from Jack White's unvarnished, fast-take approach, Van Lear Rose stays true to Lynn's classic honky-tonk roots, but also rocks harder than anything the singer has recorded. The collaboration between the Motor City-reared White Stripes singer and Kentucky-bred Coal Miner's Daughter is an ideal pairing, with White's brawny riffs and bluesy roots adding tactile weight to Lynn's nakedly direct, female empowered vocals.

Despite lyrical concerns that touch on everything from infidelity ("Family Tree") to death row ("Women's Prison"), Lynn remains steadfastly life-affirming in her outlook throughout. It's as if she's cast herself in the role of the wise woman people in the community seek council from during troubled times, a person who's seen and done it all twice over. There's little in the way of regret here; rather an appreciation for having lived long enough to reflect on one's experiences, both good and bad. The starkly acoustic widow's lament "Miss Being Mrs." is as close to outright despair as Lynn comes; but even here she manages to find the resolve to push forward rather than wallow in self-pity ("I took off my wedding band / And put it on my right hand").

White and the rest of the backing band (amusingly dubbed the Do Whaters by Lynn for doing whatever needed to be done to make the record shine) provide the backbone of Van Lear Rose. "Portland, Oregon," detailing an alcohol-fueled one-night-stand, features an effectively lithe, jam-oriented lead-in and some exceptional slide guitar that fleshes out the song's randy, devil-may-care attitude. Stamping feet and a shuffling beat nicely complement the sing-along, spirited exuberance of "High on a Mountain Top." The bouncing "Have Mercy" is a high point, with Lynn putting aside her more autobiographical tendencies in favor of simplistic, '50s-style rockabilly lyrics, backed by White's guitar-driven histrionics and a rolling thunderclap backbeat. Likewise, "Mrs. Leroy Brown" is a rough-hewn romper-stomper that puts a clever feminist spin on the more famous Mr. Brown's widely circulated tale.

On the closing "Story of My Life," Lynn says "Listen and I'll tell it twice." Cleary she's underestimating the replay value of Van Lear Rose. This is one record fans of the artist won't get tired of hearing anytime soon, an impressive way to celebrate seven decades of living and more than half a century of performing.

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