First Lady Of Country Music"
Gets A Stunning New Sound
Courtesy Of Jack White
Sunday, June 6, 2004
Eerie guitar licks creak and swirl on Loretta Lynn's
new album as she sings about a woman on death row: "Now they've
strapped me in the chair / And covered up my eyes / And the last
voice I hear on earth / Is my mama's cry."
The 69-year-old Lynn jolted country music 30 years
ago with plainspoken feminist songs like "Rated X" and
"The Pill." Now she's re-establishing herself with
"Van Lear Rose," a sometimes dark collection produced by
Jack White of the White Stripes.
White gives Lynn's twangy vocals and traditional
instrumentation a rock edge, with loud drums and bursts of grungy
guitar. There's a driving duet between the two called "Portland
Oregon," a moody, atmospheric spoken-word song "Little Red
Shoes" and a hand-clapping sing-along "High On a
The loose sound is by design. Lynn's vocals were
recorded in only one or two takes, and White used outside musicians
instead of polished Nashville studio pros.
Lynn is pleased with the results, if not entirely
sure what to make of them.
"It's different," she says in telephone
interview from her home in Hurricane Mills. "This one's just
raw. It's right out of the front room -- like we're sittin' in the
front room singin'. I think that's what he was lookin' for, and
that's what he got.
"The only thing I was worried about was the
musicians. I thought 'Well, how we going to come out with this,' but
it come out just as country as my first one, my first album."
At White's urging, all 13 of the album's tracks were
written by Lynn. "He's as bad as (the late, famed Nashville
producer) Owen Bradley about that," she says. "That's how
White is a longtime admirer of Lynn's. He dedicated
the White Stripes' breakthrough disc, 2001's "White Blood
Cells," to her. Lynn's manager told her about it, and she wrote
White a letter thanking him for the dedication and for the Stripes'
cover of "Rated X." They became friends and even performed
together in 2003 at a New York show.
When Lynn decided to record a new album, White was
chosen to produce it.
"He's got a lot of energy," Lynn says.
"He's still a kid, you know, so he feels like he can jump the
river and turn around and jump back over. He don't think that
nobody's any older than him."
Lynn's been a bit like that herself. Born into
poverty in Butcher Holler, Ky., she married Mooney Lynn -- the man
she calls "Doo" -- in 1948 when she was only 13. He cast
her aside for another woman when she was pregnant with their first
child. After reconciling, the couple moved to Washington state so
Mooney could find work.
There, Lynn was a neglected and sometimes abused
housewife and mother for more than a decade. But it was Mooney who
bought her a $17 guitar and forced her to sing in public.
After the late start -- she was the mother of four
children when she first sang in public -- Lynn rose quickly to
stardom, recording 16 No. 1 hits, including her signature,
"Coal Miner's Daughter." Her best-selling autobiography of
the same name was the subject of a 1980 movie starring Sissy Spacek
and Tommy Lee Jones.
Lynn's 48-year-marriage ended when Mooney died at
their home in 1996.
Lynn's new songs have a fresh, urgent feel.
"Have Mercy," "Portland Oregon" and "Mrs.
Leroy Brown" are rockers. The title cut about Lynn's mother
recalls Janis Joplin with its earthy vocals and heavy beat.
Lynn still writes about the hardships of being a
woman. In "Family Tree" she revisits infidelity, aiming
her scorn at the mistress rather than the cheating husband. "I
brought along our little babies / 'Cause I wanted them to see / The
woman that's burning down / Our family tree."
And in "Women's Prison," she takes a
sympathetic view of the woman who shot her cheating lover. "I'm
sittin' here on death row / And, Lord, I've lost my mind / For love
I've killed my darlin' / And for love I'll lose my life."
"It's just another way to write about that
instead of 'You Ain't Woman Enough' or 'Don't Come Home A' Drinkin,'
" Lynn says. "If you write about something for so many
years, you have to find a new way to say it."
She doesn't know if country radio will embrace her
new album -- and doesn't seem to worry much about it, either. Most
of the music she hears on the radio is too pop for her taste:
"I don't know what they're trying to do, but I
knew what I was doing. Me and Jack went in to cut a country
secretary to the next big thing in country music
NASHVILLE, TN -Tuesday, June 01, 2004 - Julie
Roberts is great at keeping secrets.
The country singer, whose debut single, "Break
Down Here," is rising on the
charts, kept her musical aspirations quiet for more than a year -
even while she worked as a secretary for Luke Lewis, the chairman of
Universal Music Group Nashville.
By day, she answered telephones. By night, she sang
in clubs and recorded demos with producer Brent Rowan.
"When I went through an internship, someone
said that if you're a singer and you intern at a label, you're not
supposed to tell because it's a conflict of interest," says
Roberts, who broke into the business as an intern at Mercury
"I was scared," she added. "I had
bills to pay, and I needed the money."
This dual existence went on until Rowan, a veteran
session guitarist, played Lewis some demo tapes featuring Roberts
and two other singers.
"I played him a couple of songs by each artist,
and Julie was last. I was in the middle of her first song and he
said, 'Who is that?' " Rowan recalled.
"By the end he was pounding on the desk saying,
'You've got to tell me who that is.' "
When Rowan told him, Lewis was stunned.
"I thought he was kidding," Lewis says.
"It kind of makes you feel foolish when you're the boss and you
don't know as much about your employees as you think you do."
Roberts' self-titled album, released Tuesday, is a
collection of blues-tinged country with hints of Bonnie Raitt and
Dolly Parton. The sound is polished but uncluttered, with Roberts'
sultry vocals carrying the songs rather than glitzy production.
She sings of relationships old and new and of taking
risks. In "Just 'Cause We Can," a song about longing to
take off on a whim for the Gulf Coast, she sings, "I bet you
could get a gig sellin' hot dogs on the boardwalk/ And I could make
a buck or two playin' Buffett tunes."
Vince Gill and Delbert McClinton make guest
appearances as backup singers, and Rowan handles the electric guitar
A native of Lancaster, S.C., Roberts began singing
as a child and by junior high was performing at festivals in the
Carolinas and Georgia.
One recent morning at a Nashville diner, over
oatmeal and scrambled egg whites, the 25-year-old blonde told the
Associated Press that she developed her soulful style while singing
with a group of older men at nursing homes.
"One guy in the band, his name was Oscar, he
sang with a real bluesy sound, and every time he sang I would study
it, and I would leave the nursing home and try to sing just like
him," Roberts says. "That's really the first time I heard
She moved to Nashville in 1999, graduated from
Belmont University and got the job at Mercury.
Roberts' Cinderella story was the subject of a
Country Music Television special in which cameras followed her
around for months as she made the transformation from secretary to
Lewis, the label chief, says the story reveals a lot
"It's refreshing because a person in my
position can get hit on by everyone," he says. "She was
really respectful about it, and I thought that was classy."
And what happened after Roberts landed her big
"She stayed on two or three more months,"
Lewis says, "and helped train her replacement."
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