Let’s face it: The Nashville country music industry is one of the most despicable operations in show business today. While Nashville force-feeds America the glitz of Shania Twain and the grunt of Toby Keith, authentic country artists of merit are swept under the rug and kept off the radio. Once in a blue moon, someone from the world of rock ‘n’ roll heads south to resuscitate the career of an artist ignored by Nashville. In the 1990s, it was Def Jam co-founder and Red Hot Chili Peppers producer Rick Rubin who breathed life into Johnny Cash’s career. Now, in 2004, White Stripes’ frontman Jack White has revitalized the once forgotten, but still great, Loretta Lynn on Van Lear Rose.
The pairing of the 70-year-old Lynn and the 28-year-old White is unlikely but successful because Van Lear Rose sparkles with the youth and vitality of Lynn’s heyday hits like “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind).” On the new album, White serves as producer and musician, but his greatest achievement is letting Lynn shine on her own. White smartly allowed Lynn to sing all original compositions, something that she has never done on an L.P. in a career that has spanned four decades.
Letting Lynn sing her own songs is important because, as fans of the film “Coal Miner’s Daughter” know, she is one of the most unique personalities in country music. On “Portland, Oregon” (a duet with White), Lynn sings, “Next day we knew last night we got drunk / But we loved enough for the both of us / In the morning when the night had sobered up / It was much too late for the both of us in Oregon.” Despite the 42-year age difference between the singers, the tale of a one night stand works because Lynn’s voice still sounds young and powerful.
Van Lear Rose is an album that can be appreciated by both fans of country and rock, as Lynn’s songs deftly combine the honky-tonk stomp of traditional country and the sounds of contemporary rock. So kudos to Jack White for slipping into some cowboy boots and a Stetson and assisting Lynn in making the masterpiece album she rightfully deserves.
[Alex Scordelis may look like a generally nice guy, but he won’t hesitate to shred your sternum if provoked.]