Van Lear Rose

Loretta Lynn

Interscope, 2004

REVIEW BY: Mark Millan


Way back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, one woman ruled the country music charts above all others: that woman is Loretta Lynn. After sixteen number-one hits in a little over ten years by the end of the ‘70s, Lynn had reached legendary status among her peers and fans alike. The close of the ‘80s saw a steady decline in productivity from Lynn with only four studio albums released after 1988. The reasons for this are by now very well documented, mainly owing to Lynn having been nursing her husband through illness to his eventual passing in the late ‘90s.

Lynn returned in 2000 with a new solo album, Still Country, and in the next few years, she released a second autobiography and, of all things, a cookbook. It was, however, in 2004, after taking up the offer to record with Jack White (of The White Stripes) that her career would come full circle. The result of this pairing was Van Lear Rose, her fifty-second studio album, which went on to gain the best reviews of her remarkable forty-plus year career.

Jack White was a man with a plan, and what a plan it was.  His muddy alt-rock grooves blend superbly with Lynn’s beautiful, heartfelt tones. From the opening title track, it is clear this will be an experience to cherish. The song sets the mood that will remain for the album’s duration: one of love, loss, and hope. The album itself takes its name from the coalmines Lynn’s father worked at, and it tells the tale of her parent’s union in such unlikely surroundings.

Portland Oregon” is a charming duet with White about falling in love and losing your mind in my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Oregon. It’s steeped firmly in the alt-rock arena, largely due to White’s slide guitar driving a tight rhythm track that sounds as if it was recorded live in a single take. The fact that White’s music and Lynn’s vocals and words marry so beautifully together are no more evidenced than with this song. 

Following this is “Trouble On The Line,” a ditty about falling out of love due to lack of communication. Lynn’s searching vocals are complimented by Dave Feeny’s pedal steel set against a sparse arrangement; it’s pure country in its simplicity and theme, a true gem.

“Family Tree” deals with her man’s mistress “burning down the family tree” and all the things that come with it: kids, bills, money or lack there of, and, of course resentment (“Their Daddy was a good man / ‘Til he ran into trash like you”). And what’s a classic country album without a fiddle? Making its first appearance here for great effect, Dirk Powell’s playing is sublime.

“Have Mercy” continues the theme of our heroine trying to win her man’s heart back from the “trash” that stole it. White’s flair for a damn good riff is present here, fueling the fire of Lynn’s stirring pleading; this track is yet another reminder what a great match the pair make.

The mood is lifted with “High On The Mountain Top,” which is essentially a chorus chanted by Lynn and the band telling us that love and fresh mountain air are the only ingredients needed for ultimate happiness. “Little Red Shoes” has Lynn talking us through a story of a childhood injury that landed her in hospital and how she ended up with a pair of red shoes.

“God Makes No Mistakes” is a reaffirmation of her faith and her reasoning behind life’s unfairness and hard truths: that’s just life, she says, and apparently none of it is God’s fault apparently. This is followed by “Women’s Prison,” a lament of life on death row for shooting her cheating man (“For love I’ve killed my darlin’ / And for love I’ll lose my life”). In spite of its content, this is the most radio friendly moment here. “This Old House” sounds like our songbird is starting over, leaving the chaos of what was her life behind -- that is, of course, after she’s fixed up a few loose ends.

“Miss Being Mrs” tells of the loneliness still felt after having lost her Mister. More desperate singing you’ll never hear; it’s truly heartbreaking stuff.  The album closes on a light note with “Story Of My Life,” a country rocker with a happy ending for once.  Lynn sounds triumphant, and despite being seventy years at the time, as youthful as ever.

Who would have thought the pairing of Lynn and White would reap such rich rewards?  Two Grammy awards and bucket loads of raving reviews helped cement this as Lynn’s masterpiece. She is the Van Lear Rose, after all.

Rating: A

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© 2008 Mark Millan and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Interscope, and is used for informational purposes only.