Loretta Lynn is a trailblazer, a troublemaker and a living legend. At 83 years old, nobody would fault the country music icon for taking a step back from touring or releasing new music, but that’s just not Lynn’s way. Her excellent new record, Full Circle, is the first of five new albums. Order Full Circle here.
The upcoming albums aren’t just career retrospectives of Lynn’s biggest hits — though each will feature a handful of her best-known songs — but are designed to communicate the journey of Lynn’s musical life: classics revisited, Appalachian folk songs, family favourites, covers and new material.
The record starts off in the most perfect way imaginable, with Lynn re-recording the first song she ever wrote, “Whispering Sea,” a sweetly melancholy tune that has only deepened with time. “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven” is a swinging, energetic gospel-rock number that highlights both the piano and the guitars. “In the Pines” is one of the most stripped-down numbers, with backing harmonies that are campfire ready and pitch perfect. “Fist City” is still all sparks and fire, and arguably packs more of a punch thanks to the slight grit in Lynn’s older-but-wiser powerhouse vocals. Lynn’s good friend Willie Nelson also makes two appearances, sort of. She covers his dreamy lament “Always On My Mind,” and he joins her for a duet on “Lay Me Down,” the record’s achingly beautiful final track.
Coinciding with the album release is also a new documentary, Loretta Lynn: Still a Mountain Girl, which you can watch on CBC's documentary channel March 4 at 8 p.m. EST and 9 p.m PST, featuring fellow country music giants Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood and more.
CBC Music spoke with Lynn about Full Circle, being banned from the radio back in the day, sexism in country music and what she thinks of Top 40 country. Hint: not much.
Full Circle is the first of five new records for you in this forthcoming series. How did it start?
When we went in to record, I went in to record like 90 songs. We're putting out all my number-one records and all my top 10 records. We just started singing and we sang almost 90 songs. I had never thought about anyone hearing. I don't know what I thought, but I was doing it mostly for the kids. Sony wanted to buy them all....
I'm so excited. Ninety songs — how long did it take you to record all of that?
Not very long. We sat out there in the studio, me and my friend John Carter Cash and my daughter and we'd go out and record for four days. We might cut 10 one day or three songs another day. It was dependent on what we were talking about. We just did what we wanted to. We were in no hurry and nobody was hurrying. We had a good time. Some of those songs took a long time.
Wow! That's incredible and you sound so beautiful. I loved it.
Well you know, I was playing the guitar, singing "I Never Will Marry" and I remember singing that when I was a little girl. John Carter Cash said I was humming it in the studio and I was doing something else, and I wasn't recording. He asked me if I knew that song. I told him I heard my momma singing it when I was little. He said, "Get into the studio." So I just stepped into the recording booth, he turned the thing on and we just cut it. Just one time. One time. There's only a guitar with that song.
How did you decide what went on this first one?
I didn't. Sony did. We walked in, they said, “We'll take this one and that one.” They took whatever they wanted.
Your cover of “You Are Always on My Mind” and recording with Willie Nelson and Elvis Costello. Were those things that you wanted to do, or did Sony ask you to do them?
No. It was something that the studio did. Elvis Costello went in and played harmony on that one song of mine. I didn't even know he was going to do that. Then Willie did his part on that one song. Willie and I are like brother and sister. We've known each other for 50 years.
Wow. That's a great long friendship.
Me and Merle Haggard wanted to collaborate on an album, but ain't got around to it yet, but me and Merle want to hook up.
I know that people say you were the first person to bring a feminist viewpoint to country. Do you look back on your songbook like that?
I just look back on it as another day. All this music, another one on the way, and "What Kind of Girl Do you Think I Am?" When I was recording, I recorded for us girls. I didn't record for men. I fought for the women and I recorded for the women. You know what? At that time, it was the women who were buying records, too.
People seem to want to forget that women love music and make great music.
I know. I know. They're the ones that step up most of the time and play the jukebox.
What do you play on a jukebox?
Well, when I go in, I look at the jukebox and I look to see who is playing. If I find someone I want to hear sing, I put my money in.
Who do you want to hear sing?
Well, let me see. Right now, I can't think. I'm on the road all the time. I work by myself, you know, so I work all the time. I bet there's no one else in this country music that's as old as I am. They get to be about 45 or 50 years old and they're too old to sing. When I get too old to sing, it's when they're going to put me six feet under and I'll probably go down singing.
Does it ever get a bit lonely out there?
No, I have my family with me. My twin daughters are out there with me and my son opens the shows. He's a great singer. He recorded for the same label that I recorded for for a while, and my daughters did too. So they open the show for me.
A lot of people talk about when your songs were banned. Was it a thrill at the time or did it seem terrifying because radio play was so important?
It was terrifying because I'd never heard of a record being banned. I didn't really understand what the deal was. I didn't think I said anything in the song that was bad, but evidently I did. I never thought that when I recorded a record, what I had to say on record it was so bad that someone had to ban it. I guess some guy thought, "I don't want my wife listening to that!" But their wives did anyway.
They always find a way. Just last year, there was a radio consultant in Nashville who said, "If you want to make ratings in country radio, take the females out." He called Blake Shelton and Keith Urban the lettuce, but that the women are just the tomatoes in a salad. I just thought, "How could this be happening, 60 years after you came along?" It doesn't make sense.
It really don't. They're not singing about anything worthy on a record. It's just "I love you, and I love you. Hey darling, let's go out." It's just nothing. It means nothing to me.
Is there a song that you have ever wished you wrote?
Merle Haggard's "Today I Started Loving You Again." I love that song. That's my favourite all-time song that anybody has ever sang. It's so simple and it says it all. It just says what it needs to say.
1. “Whispering Sea” (Introduction)
2. “Whispering Sea”
3. “Secret Love”
4. “Who's Gonna Miss Me?”
5. “Black Jack David”
6. “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven”
7. “Always On My Mind”
8. “Wine Into Water”
9. “In the Pines”
10. “Band of Gold”
11. “Fist City”
12. “I Never Will Marry”
13. “Everything It Takes” (featuring Elvis Costello)
14. “Lay Me Down” (featuring Willie Nelson)
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