Her first album in over a decade – since the decent-racket that was Van Lear Rose (about the best thing Jack White’s been involved with) – Full Circle has the now 84-year-old Lynn tracing around songs from across her career; a coming home of sorts. Her voice is undimmed, her power within and around a song truly undiminished, she remains a master interpreter and a skilled writer.
One of Lynn’s great strengths – and there are of course so many, her life and career, her tale of survival – is quality control. She has over 50 albums to her name and barely a dud track, duets, live recordings, special guest producers, it always sounds like Loretta Lynn – she’s there front and centre. And here she goes back to some of those hugely important songs (Fist City) that made her a feminist icon, as well as bending old staples, showing skill and taste (Always On My Mind). She’s also held back in recent years, waiting until there’s, seemingly, something to say.
Full Circle is just 38 minutes in length (about my favourite running time) but in those moments we hear her explore country-gospel via T. Graham Brown’s Wine Into Water and plantation-blues via Leadbelly’s In The Pines. There’s The Carter Family’s I Never Will Marry and her own Whispering Sea and through it all – including wonderful duets with Elvis Costello and Willie Nelson to close off the album – it’s the voice and gravitas of Lynn that carries. Full Circle is like her version of those American Recordings Johnny Cash made toward the end of his life, but without the “gimmick” of a stripped-back setting and a noted celebrity-producer. Just Lynn and her ball dress, her guitar and that voice capable of putting emotion into anything and everything she sings. Some weepy strings cling to the sides of these songs. And huge heart strides through the middle.
She is a legend. And we are so lucky to have her still. That she sounds as good as she ever has is simultaneously remarkable and no big surprise. She’s all class. Always.