Sunday, May 09, 2004

Everything positive you've heard about Loretta Lynn's Van Lear Rose is true; it's worth - and earns - every iota of hype. There will inevitably be a backlash a couple of months down the road - "it's only 'cause she's old," "it's only 'cause she worked with Jack White," et cetera - and that'll be those people's loss, 'cause this is a fucking monstrous record. It really does feel like a career record, akin to Dylan's "Love and Theft" (most would say Time Out of Mind), or of course to one of Cash's quartet he made with Rick Rubin behind the boards (pick 'em, though conventional wisdom in this case says the first or fourth). Rose is destined to get compared in every review, every mention to those amazing Cash/Rubin collaborations, but that's further off the mark than you might think. As Rob Sheffield points out in his great review in Rolling Stone, whereas Rubin essentially didn't produce Cash - only sitting a microphone in front of him - White completely produces Lynn, adding rich layers of sound which accent and augment - instead of overwhelming - her voice and, most of all, her songs.

Van Lear Rose is the first album in Lynn's lengthy career on which she wrote every song, and it shows; I'd argue this is her finest collection of songs in one album ever. And White, incredibly, knows just what to do with 'em. "Have Mercy" is a shocking Loretta Zeppelin record (and in 1970 would've flipped everyone's wig), featuring such a bluesy bump-n-grind and such sexy singing from a septugenarian like you won't believe. "Miss Being Mrs." is a heartbreaker of the highest order, a highly personal track about the loss of her husband of many decades, Doo. "Little Red Shoes" feels like an anamoly, White channelling Daniel Lanois's work with, say, Emmylou Harris; it's a very spacious, stretched-out production against which Lynn does a kind of spoken-word narrative, reminiscing. It's evocative and gorgeous, and like the rest of this Rose, it works.

Much attention, of course, has been thrown at "Portland, Oregon," Loretta's sole duet with the lead White Stripe, and it's even better than you might expect, both of them howling over a squawling track (in many ways the most Jack-and-Meg-sounding song on the album) about the end of a relationship. But really, what impresses me so immensely about Van Lear Rose is the entirety of it; this album never lags, not a bit, and keeps up a sterling standard of quality from beginning to end of its 37 minutes and change. I honestly can't recall the last time I was so blown away by an album; it's likely been years. This is an instant classic. Some might even use the "m"-word; I'll save that for a couple months from now and reevaluate Rose then. But I'll tell you this much: it's gonna be damned hard for any one album to top Lynn's in 2004. A+

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