Lynn’s latest, unfortunately, is another instance of her merely repeating herself without much beyond her legacy to justify its existence.
In referencing one of her signature hits for the title and opening track of her latest album, Loretta Lynn tips her hand: Still Woman Enough focuses more on Lynn’s legacy than on her current place in country music. And few artists have a legacy as storied as Lynn’s from which to draw on for this kind of late-stage statement album; she’s a true icon, and has earned a victory lap or two. But the new album raises the question of “just how many victory laps does any artist, even one of Lynn’s stature, need to take?” Since her landmark, Jack White-produced Van Lear Rose, back in 2004, Lynn has released just three albums, each one prominently featuring some fine (but largely inessential, truth be told) re-recordings of her most well-known material. On Still Woman Enough, that type of inessential re-recording is essentially the raison d’etre of the entire set. Though Lynn is joined by a roster of A-list collaborators — and has included some covers of genre standards that she didn’t actually write herself — this all scans as kind of perfunctory.
The title track answers a question about Lynn’s bona fides that no one ever asked, though both Reba McEntire and Carrie Underwood ultimately overpower Lynn with their vocal performances — not because they’re overselling their parts of the song, but because Lynn’s voice, still spry on some of the album’s better moments, is well past its peak. Tanya Tucker proves a better foil for Lynn, on “You Ain’t Woman Enough.” That song’s arrangement as a duet doesn’t really work, but it’s still far more appropriate than this take on “One’s On the Way,” which boasts a terrific performance from Margo Price, but simply never gets around how odd it is for 88-year-old Lynn to sing in the first person about having another baby. Elsewhere, Lynn’s wit remains as sharp as ever, so it’s curious that she didn’t attempt an update to these lyrics that might have capitalized on some interplay with Price. The only one of the re-recordings that’s effective on Still Woman Enough is the one of “Coal Miner’s Daughter” — because there Lynn takes a purposeful risk.
Having just cut a straightforward re-recording of that same classic song on 2018’s Wouldn’t It Be Great, it was all the more essential that Lynn approach it differently this time: The autobiographical hit is recast in the recitation style that was most popular during country music’s “golden era,” and the choice suits both Lynn’s vocal and the lyrics of “Coal Miner’s Daughter” quite well, highlighting the plainspokenness of the narrative and Lynn’s emotional connection to how she’s framed her story. Beyond that one, though, few performances here are so lived-in. “Keep On the Sunny Side” makes for a natural fit to Lynn’s delivery, and she brings a bit of fire to a cover of Hank Williams’s “I Saw The Light” — enough that these ultimately suggest that Still Woman Enough would’ve been better served by hearing more takes on country’s battle-tested hits. After all, Lynn isn’t re-recording her own material, say, because of issues of ownership; unfortunately, this is just a case of the icon repeating herself, again.
Published as part of Album Roundup — March 2021 | Part 2.