Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Loretta Lynn

  • Loretta Lynn Writes 'Em and Sings 'Em [Decca, 1970] A-
  • I Wanna Be Free [Decca, 1971] B
  • One's on the Way [Decca, 1972] B+
  • Loretta Lynn's Greatest Hits Vol. II [MCA, 1974] A-
  • When the Tingle Becomes a Chill [MCA, 1976] B
  • I Remember Patsy [MCA, 1977] B+
  • Country Music Hall of Fame Series [MCA, 1992] A
  • Van Lear Rose [Interscope, 2004] ***
  • The Definitive Collection [MCA Nashville, 2005]
  • Full Circle [Legacy, 2016] ***

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Loretta Lynn Writes 'Em and Sings 'Em [Decca, 1970]
Owen Bradley steals a trick from Andrew Loog Oldham here even if he never heard of the fella--like Flowers, this is a "concept album" conceived largely to recycle old material, and like Flowers it works anyway. No cover filler or publishing tie-ins, just the continuing saga of a strong-willed woman committed to a male-defined world. In most of these pungently colloquial songs (punch line of "You Wanna Give Me a Lift": "But this ole gal ain't goin' that far"), Lynn is either boasting or telling somebody off, and even when she's addressing herself to a woman, what's got her excited is a man--her man, for better or (usually) worse. A-

I Wanna Be Free [Decca, 1971]
Like any country workhorse, Lynn customarily pads her three or four albums a year with the popular songs of the day. Here the unadorned sexuality of "Help Me Make It Through the Night" and the white gospel roots of "Put Your Hand in the Hand" prove that for a great natural singer remakes needn't be a waste. But then there's "Rose Garden." And "Me and Bobby McGee." B

One's on the Way [Decca, 1972]
Lynn projects total empathy for the protagonist of the title song, a Topeka housewife who knows about women's oppression firsthand but regards "women's lib" as a glamorous media event, as distant as Liz's "million-dollar pact." An epochal two-and-a-half minutes, class-conscious in the great country tradition, and I don't care if it was written by a man (Shel Silverstein) who also works for Johnny Cash, Dr. Hook, and Playboy. What follows is an ordinary country album done right, avoiding banal covers and providing auxiliary songs of consistent interest. Lynn's "L-O-V-E, Love," about talking dirty, is among the best, and there's not a bummer in the bunch. How many works of rock can you say that about these days? B+

Loretta Lynn's Greatest Hits Vol. II [MCA, 1974]
Each (short) side closes off with the obligatory domestic bromide. But the other nine songs--including six by the singer and two by Shel Silverstein--embody Lynn's notion of female liberation. This notion isn't very sisterly--the only other woman who appears here is headed for Fist City--but does break through the male-identified dead ends of a Tammy Wynette. If Loretta doesn't get her love rights, then she's gonna declare her independence, and even scarier for her man, she sounds like she's itching for an excuse. You know about funky? Well, then, call this spunky. A-

When the Tingle Becomes a Chill [MCA, 1976]
Lola Jean Dillon's title hit is the best song about frigidity, as we once called it, since the Velvet Underground's "Here She Comes Now," and gets Lynn's most listenable side in years off with a bang. Too bad "Daydreams About Night Things," the best song about having the hots for your spouse since "Behind Closed Doors," wasn't chosen to soften the impact of "You Love You" and "All I Want From You (Is Away)"--"Leaning on Your Love," which got the nod instead, belongs on side two, which you needn't bother with, since nobody else did. B

I Remember Patsy [MCA, 1977]
I had hopes this might take its place beside one of my favorite country albums, Lefty Frizzell Sings the Songs of Jimmie Rodgers, but Patsy Cline's legacy is a lot narrower than Jimmie's, and Loretta's not quite the singer Frizzell was, either. At forty-one, her voice is thicker than Patsy's was when she died at thirty, and she's a lot more country, especially in her pronunciation--that slight lisp, and the way she distorts the vowels around "r" sounds. On the other hand, she has decent material to work with for once, and her "Why Can't He Be You" is a breathtaking object lesson in the connections between suffering and exaltation. Annoyance: the seven-minute spoken reminiscence that closes the album. B+

Country Music Hall of Fame Series [MCA, 1992]
She's not quite the singer Patsy was and Tammy theoretically remains, but her sense of self is more archetypal--deep country without Patsy's jazzy detours, male-identified without Tammy's sultry masochism. When she was flying she wrote her own songs, the feistiest (and best) the politically incorrect "Fist City" (biff-bam-boom, sister) and "Your Squaw Is on the Warpath" (his metaphor, she revels in it). But the borrowed marital laments of her decline--"After the Fire Is Gone," "When the Tingle Becomes a Chill," and Shel Silverstein's eternal "One's on the Way"--sound lived in. That can happen when you get hitched at 13, have four kids before you're 20, take off at 26 with a song that goes "Success has made a failure of our home," and stand by your man. A

Van Lear Rose [Interscope, 2004]
Are we allowed to wonder whether she's spunky enough for a Nashville legend with a new lease on life? ("Red Shoes," "Story of My Life") ***

The Definitive Collection [MCA Nashville, 2005]
The shrewd minority who suspect 69-year-old Loretta Lynn's Jack White-produced 2004 comeback Van Lear Rose didn't do her justice are ill-served by her confusing catalogue. This 25-tracker is her definitivest CD so far, adding three stone classics, including "The Pill," to 2002's All Time Greatest Hits, but withholding three others, including the unreconstructed "Your Squaw Is on the Warpath." Although the 16-track 1991 Country Music Hall of Fame Series is more surefire, the extras here fill out the picture. Her voice too pert, spunky, and honest for melodrama, Lynn is best playing her real-life role of long-suffering wife with druthers, with duet partner Conway Twitty occasionally broadening her romantic range. But beyond that, she's the most forthrightly downhome artist, male or female, ever to conquer Nashville. [Blender: 4]

Full Circle [Legacy, 2016]
Remakes that never seem redundant from an 83-year-old who's lived clean but never been a prig about it. ("Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven," "Wine Into Water") ***

See Also