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At 83, 'Songwriter-Singer' Loretta Lynn Comes 'Full Circle'


This is FRESH AIR. I’m David Bianculli, editor of the website TV Worth Watching, sitting in for Terry Gross. At the age of 83, Loretta Lynn is still making vibrant music. The country music icon has just released "Full Circle," her first album of new music in more than a decade. Earlier this year, she was the subject of a PBS "American Masters" tribute called "Still A Mountain Girl," which is available online. Today on Fresh Air, we’ll listen back to a 2010 conversation between Loretta Lynn and Terry Gross. But first, our rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of the new Loretta Lynn album titled "Full Circle."


LORETTA LYNN: (Singing) In the pines, in the pines, where the sun never shines and a shiver when cold winds blow. My love, my love, what have I done to make you treat me so?

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Loretta Lynn’s new album "Full Circle" mixes new, original material with Lynn’s interpretations of country-music classics such as the song that began this review, "In the Pines." This album includes a re-recording of the first song she ever wrote, "Whispering Sea," written when she was 25, and its lyric about a, quote, "old love affair that used to be," has a timeless ring.


LYNN: (Singing) I sat down by the sea and it whispered to me. It brought back an old love affair that used to be. It told me that had found someone new and left me to cry over you. Whispering sea rolling by, now don’t you listen to me cry. I cry as though my heart is broke in two. Oh, how I love him so. No one will ever know. No one but the drifting whispering sea.

TUCKER: She writes in her liner notes, I will always be a songwriter-singer, which inverts the usual phrase singer-songwriter to place the emphasis where Lynn wants it - on her work as an artist who crafts imagery and stories. There’s an elegiac quality to some of "Full Circle," the sense that Lynn is acknowledging she is inevitably coming to the end of her career in a song such as "Who’s Gonna Miss Me?" Yet any sorrow in that sentiment is prevented from descending into self-pity by her crisp, firm singing, a firmness she applies to even greater effect on another original song here, "Everybody Wants to Go To Heaven."


LYNN: (Singing) Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die. Once upon a time, there lived a man and his name was Hezekiah. He walked with God both day and night, but he didn’t want to die. He cried oh Lord, please let me live. Death is close, I know. God smiled down on Hezekiah and gave him 15 years to go. Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die. Lord, I want to go to heaven, but I don’t want to die. I long for the day when I have new birth. Still, I love living here on Earth. Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.

TUCKER: "Full Circle" is co-produced by John Carter Cash and her daughter Patsy Lynn Russell, and they surround Lynn with beautifully understated but precise arrangements, with mandolin, pedal steel guitar and upright bass prominent in the mix. This is less a throwback to an earlier era of country record-making than it is about creating an open atmosphere for Lynn’s vocals to fill.


LYNN: (Singing) I love you more than she ever will. But the only way she can get a man is steal. I don’t know if I should tell you this or not. She’s got everything it takes to take everything you’ve got. And when she takes you…

TUCKER: To be sure, there’s been some deterioration in her voice in her eighth decade. But like any first-rate singer of popular music, she uses her weaknesses as strengths, letting you hear a vulnerability and informality that is somewhat new to her music. Listen to what she does with an atypically loose, almost jazzy version of "Band of Gold" - not the 1970 Freda Payne soul-music hit, but the 1955 pop ballad.


LYNN: (Singing) I never wanted wealth untold. My life has one desire - a simple, little band of gold to prove that you are mine. Don’t want the world to have and hold. For fame is not my line. Just want a little band of gold to prove that you are mine. Some sail away…

TUCKER: It was recently reported that Lynn has been working steadily on her legacy. Since 2007, she’s been working with her daughter Patsy, John Carter Cash and songwriters such as Todd Snider on the recording of many songs she’s written in notebooks over the years. Loretta Lynn has apparently already recorded entire albums of songs, both her own and covers of everything from gospel to Christmas music. It’s all material she wants to record as a completion of her lifelong project of creating a vivid portrait of a coal miner’s daughter grown into one of the greatest performers country music has ever known.

BIANCULLI: Ken Tucker is critic-at-large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed the new Loretta Lynn album "Full Circle." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.

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