CMT is crowning Loretta Lynn “Artist of a Lifetime” at its annual Artists of the Year broadcast on Wednesday night, and the timing couldn’t be better. Lynn’s recently released album captures her importance to the genre with the same graceful force that’s characterized her entire career.
The title track is a good place to start. “Wouldn’t It Be Great” marks Lynn’s third release of the song, after including it on an album in the 1980s then recording it again with Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette for “Honky Tonk Angels” in 1993. This time around, it cuts deeper. Lynn’s voice still soars, although it’s aged into a hearty rasp, which brings new depth to her lyrics.
The 86-year-old’s performance is complemented beautifully by the production, for which John Carter Cash and her daughter Patsy Lynn Russell are responsible. The sound has strong flairs of bluegrass, as is the case on many great Americana albums, and mandolin and fiddle parts mingle well with electric guitar and drums.
“Wouldn’t it be fine if you could say you love me just one time / With a sober mind?” Lynn asks in “Wouldn’t It Be Great.” Her beloved longtime husband, “Doo,” a notorious alcoholic, died more than two decades ago, giving the latest cut a new meaning. Lines like “Love went to waste when my sexy lace couldn’t turn his face. The bottle took my place. Love went to waste,” sound regretful and haunting this time around.
“The love of my life is long gone, and I don’t know what I’ve done so wrong,” Lynn sings with an ache on “I’m Dying for Someone to Live For,” a track that represents her mastery of the genre’s signature combination of simplicity and depth. “Ain’t No Time To Go” stands out in that respect too.
Both recall the longing of “Miss Being Mrs.,” one of the great songs of her later years. The album also includes a dramatically different version of “God Makes No Mistakes,” from 2004’s “Van Lear Rose,” Lynn’s unforgettable collaboration with Jack White. She revisits “Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’,” her first number one hit, and “Coal Miner’s Daughter” on the record as well.
Songs original to “Wouldn’t It Be Great,” which was delayed more than a year after she suffered a stroke, won’t be heard by nearly as many people as classics like those, but they’re fitting contributions to Lynn’s catalog, which gives voice to a lot of people who don’t feel heard these days.
Lynn exemplifies her genre’s beautiful subversion of stereotypes that dog people in rural America. Her deceptively plain lyrics belie their sophistication, telling powerful stories and stirring complicated emotions. Like Parton, Lynn has always sung the songs of her roots without losing them, and with striking artistry. The simplicity of country music is often at the heart of its power, and Lynn’s work is proof.
If ever there were a moment to elevate a woman like Lynn, it would be now, when the people her music speaks to need to be heard. “Wouldn’t It Be Great” is a beautiful representation of her talents, and her talents are a beautiful representation of this country.