For an artist with as storied and lengthy a career as Loretta Lynn, it’s odd that there hasn’t been a larger number of tribute albums over the years. Two in just a few months, then, makes for a comparative slew that goes some way to redressing the balance. Hot on the heels of Eilen Jewell’s impressive Butcher Holler project (named after Lynn’s Kentucky home) comes Coal Miner’s Daughter: A Tribute To Loretta Lynn, in which a parade of the usual country music and rootsy rock suspects – plus a few surprises – plough through some of the icon’s vintage hits.
Released to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of Lynn’s entry into the music business, much of the album is devoted to women belting out each time-honoured track in a contemporary country style – that is, not blisteringly original but always committed. Each artist was allowed to record with their own musicians and producers for the record, lending the collection some healthy variation. Lynn’s imaginative, gutsy lyrics come to fore on some of the album’s more vibrant tacks; Gretchen Wilson’s hearty cover of ‘Don’t Come Home A Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)’, the title track of Lynn’s stone-cold country album from 1967, and Carrie Underwood’s take on 1971’s ‘You’re Lookin’ At Country’ are full of colour, life and attitude.
Other songs showcase Lynn’s tender way with a ballad. Lee Ann Womack’s clear voice rings out on the simple loping fare of ‘I’m A Honky Tonk Girl’ (1960), a low-key heartbreak ballad, while Faith Hill’s version of ‘Love Is The Foundation’ (a hit in 1973) holds back on the ubiquitous pedal steel and fiddle to explore a more romantic mood. Arguably the highlight in this regard is Lucinda Williams’ fantastically raspy rendition of 1976’s ‘Somebody Somewhere’, which boasts a far more atmospheric production job and finds the heartland rocker imparting some real emotion.
There are a couple of rewarding experiments, too. Jack White, who famously reinvigorated Lynn’s career with his production work on 2004’s acclaimed Van Lear Rose, returns with Meg behind him for a bare, bluesy take on 1972’s ‘Rated X’, bringing out the rustic intensity of the tune and once again highlighting his remarkable feel for Lynn’s work. Paramore also surprise with a nicely restrained approach to 1966’s ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)’, though Hayley Williams’ vocal is somewhat lacking in nuance to make it her own. Another of the album’s strangely rewarding experiments is Reba [McEntire] & The Time Jumpers’ bouncy ‘If You’re Not Gone Too Long’ (1967), which displays a joyful vivacity in its upbeat, old-timey jazz-meets-country sound.
Like the majority of tribute albums, Coal Miner’s Daughter is not without its problems. Kid Rock’s laborious version of ‘I Know How’ gets a stodgy rock arrangement while a pair of record’s duets lean much too hard on established country tropes, almost to the point of parody. Alan Jackson and Martina McBride’s 1973′s ‘Louisiana Woman, Missisippi Man’ is only marginally more memorable than Steve Earle and Allison Moorer’s staid reworking of 1971’s ‘After The Fire Is Gone’ (originally a duet between Lynn and Conway Twitty). Nevertheless, the album concludes on a restorative high note as Lynn takes to the microphone for 1969’s enduring autobiographical number ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’, accompanied by Miranda Lambert and Sheryl Crow.
Where Coal Miner’s Daughter really succeeds is in shining the spotlight on Loretta Lynn’s towering songwriting talent, the backbone of which is her brilliant ear for melody and frank, inimitable lyrics. Amid the occasional clunkers there are some genuinely heartfelt, warm performances here; while Lynn’s own versions are, of course, definitive, as tribute albums go this one’s pretty good.
[Columbia; January 24, 2011]
Tagged carrie underwood, coal miner's daughter, eilen jewell, faith hill, gretchen wilson, hayley williams, lee ann womack, loretta lynn, lucinda williams, meg white, miranda lambert, paramore, reba and the time jumpers, reba mcentire, sheryl crow, the white stripes, van lear rose