Coal Miner's Daughter
April 27, 2004 4:23 PM   Subscribe

"Who is this Loretta Lynn chick, anyway?". Jack White, in a skintight, red cowboy suit, seemed a little nervous when he came out to introduce his opening act. So nervous, in fact, that the White Stripes frontman offered a cautionary preface of sorts to the massive huddle of young fans at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York. "Now I want you all to be very nice to my next guest. I think she's the greatest female singer-songwriter of the 20th century,". The crowd looked around at each other, visibly puzzled. In White, Loretta Lynn has found her Rick Rubin. Finally. Much like the producer who revitalized the late Johnny Cash's career with spare, homespun recordings, White has raised the notion of Loretta Lynn as a hip, renegade country artist. The transformation is of the same magnitude as Emmylou Harris's ethereal work with Daniel Lanois in the mid-'90s. more inside
posted by matteo (33 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
USAToday writes that White's and Lynn's "a heavenly mismatch. White serves Lynn unvarnished and unprocessed, letting her raw vocal splendor sprawl in loose, gritty arrangements that retain her earthy twang while rocking harder than Ozzfest. At 70, Lynn is as gutsy and frisky as ever".
A question comes to mind, though: why is that we ("we" as supposedly hip record buyers) apparently need the Beastie Boys guy, or Lanois, or Jack White to convince us that these geezers (Cash, Lynn, Harris) don't belong to some kind of lame "stuff your parents listen to" wasteland, but are in fact marvelous artists, their age (and haircuts) notwithstanding? (I'm not denying that White, Rubin and Lanois did and are doing wonders to make those legends work even better. But still, the notions that Lynn needs the ghostly White Stripes guy to become more marketable is kinda sad, actually)
posted by matteo at 4:29 PM on April 27, 2004

Well, gosh, if you like country music, you must be a *gasp* hick, right? That's what it boils down-- that lousy stereotype. And there is nothing scarier to an image-conscious, media-saavy hipster than the H-word.

Oh, BTW, the Loretta Lynn disc, is of course, great.
posted by keswick at 4:41 PM on April 27, 2004

Similar thoughts after Lynn answered during a recent TV interview who her favorite music artist are today, the WS.
The interviewer phrased the question expecting her answer for the question being older artist of her era. Which had me then wondering if the question was a ploy for me to purchase the WS's new album. Because she will she will profit from me buying it.
posted by thomcatspike at 4:46 PM on April 27, 2004

Emmylou Harris's ethereal work with Daniel Lanois

Ethereal...I suppose that's one word for it. But I really got sick of Lanois' presence on that record (mirrorball). I eventually realized that my favorite songs were the ones he had the least to do with, and that his songs were self-indulgent overproduced wankery.
posted by freebird at 4:50 PM on April 27, 2004

The Observer's critic is somehow baffled, as well: Given his monarchical place in the world defined by the NME, outdoor festivals and affectedly vogueish TV channels, it's obvious what's coming next: hastily written tributes to Lynn's 'godlike genius', and her portrait sitting in among pictures of Thom Yorke, Julian Casablancas and the slovenly blokes from Jet..

I'm not sure it's all that there is to it: for me, for example, having experienced Lynn's music from far away, before having visited the US, her music has been the symbol of, well, the old, weird America in the Marcus-ian sense of course.
American Folk music itself -- you can't get more "hick" than that, I guess. or bluegrass: that's "hick squared", but even before the Coens made it hip with their movie, it was considered very important stuff, of historical value.
What I find curious -- and I see thomcatspike's agreeing with this point -- is how the music industry ends up finding a way to market those artists (who are, by the way, giants) to a newer, fresher demographic. it takes genius, and I love the Rubin/Cash work, but it makes me wonder.
anyway, I need to listen to this Lynn record very carefully. to me, she's the First Lady of American music.
posted by matteo at 4:51 PM on April 27, 2004

The transformation is of the same magnitude as Emmylou Harris's ethereal work with Daniel Lanois

I second what freebird says. Anyone who appreciates Emmylou Harris for the great (hip, renegade, add your favorite word of approbation) artist that she is surely locates that greatness first and foremost in her work before the most recent albums. For a "greatest female singer-songwriter" at her prime now, turn to Lucinda Williams.
posted by Zurishaddai at 4:55 PM on April 27, 2004

I, too, love the music of Marcus's "old, weird America." My collection includes Flatt & Scruggs, Bill Monroe, Cash, Hank Sr., Lefty Frizzell, Faron Young, the Louvin Brothers, the Stanley Brothers, Jimmie Rodgers, Patsy Cline, Haggard, Buck Owens, the Carter Family, etc.

I guess it just bugs me that giants like Cash and Lynn need the approval of hipster musicians or producers before the general populace will check 'em out. And for every giant that gets "discovered," there's dozens of greats who are ignored.

And it bugs me that Cash and Lynn are too country to be played on modern "country" radio stations, but that's another topic.
posted by keswick at 5:02 PM on April 27, 2004

I've heard at least three tracks off of Lynn's latest album on kexp which put it on my must-buy list of earworm material. As for matteo's question? I don't think it is just country music that does this. Carlos Santana, B.B. King and the late great John Lee Hooker were also "revived" through musical partnerships with more mainstream artists. I suspect another reason has to do with the much-complained about commercialism of Nashville that tends towards over-produced pop.

I think what it comes down to is this:
That said, Brophey acknowledges that the station probably won't play it. "Loretta doesn't have any national chart success right now, and we tend to be more of a chart-driven station," he says. "If it gets enough attention and press, there's a chance we'll pick it up."
keswick: Well, gosh, if you like country music, you must be a *gasp* hick, right? That's what it boils down-- that lousy stereotype. And there is nothing scarier to an image-conscious, media-saavy hipster than the H-word.

Unless you can pull it off. I've known a number of folks who made the transformation from living and breathing grunge/punk to "alternative country" (a phrase that even No Depression declines to hazard defining.) The primary criterion for Hick-Hipster status is how you define your tastes in relationship to the country music charts. (Maximum hick-hipster points for bugging your housmates by jamming on banjo every third weeknight.)
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:02 PM on April 27, 2004

uh. guilty.
posted by keswick at 5:08 PM on April 27, 2004

I was a commercial radio country music jock twenty years ago. I think that people outside the country music scene don't realize that it mirrors the rock/pop music scence--that is, there is a spectrum running from pop pablum to hardcore genius. If you don't know much about it, you can't differentiate. Rubin and White act as guides for people that don't know any better. There's nothing wrong with that.

Having said that, my wish is that someone would rescue country music from itself. Of course I don't listen to contemporary country music, but over Christmas I was exposed to a lot of Top 40 country radio. And it about drove me insane. Top 40 country twenty years ago was about, say, 40% absurdly sentimental over-processed crap; now, it sounds to me like it's closer to 80%.

On the other hand, Top 40 pop/rock radio has been mostly crap during almost my entire lifetime.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 5:12 PM on April 27, 2004

I can't say that I disapprove of the combo, and Mr. White's little preamble was a good idea considering how many people walked out on David Bowie when he was touring with Nine Inch Nails for the Outside tour (Halloween show, even the stage crew was in costume). I was surprised I didn't hear anyone comment on Bowie covering that Nirvana song from unplugged....

One caveat though, don't forget The KLF and Tammy Wynette

We got both kinds of music here boy, Country AND Western.
posted by raygun21 at 5:17 PM on April 27, 2004

what's the problem? old acts often benefit from being "rediscovered" by the young, and vice-versa. reinvorgoration goes both ways. it's part of the natural artistic mentor-mentee cycle.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 5:28 PM on April 27, 2004

I was surprised I didn't hear anyone comment on Bowie covering that Nirvana song from unplugged....

Brief aside: That's sorta understandable, though, isn't it? I mean, maybe it's just because I'm 23 (in fact, there's a very large possibility this is the case), but when you listen to Bowie's rendition vs. Nirvana's there is no contest - they did the song far, far better than Bowie himself ever did.

And I *like* Bowie.

If someone were to make that mistake, I'd totally understand why - Bowie may have written that song, but he sure as hell didn't deliver its ultimate rendition.
posted by Ryvar at 5:31 PM on April 27, 2004

Etherial Bligh: You know, I absolutley hated country until I started tuning around and listening to "alternative" radio stations that let people play music that they love rather than chart-directed programming. (And isn't that a catch-22 with radio? Can't get on the charts without getting on the radio but you can't get on the radio without getting on the charts.)
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:39 PM on April 27, 2004

(And isn't that a catch-22 with radio? Can't get on the charts without getting on the radio but you can't get on the radio without getting on the charts.)

Interesting question to bring up in a conversation about Loretta Lynn, who, when she was first getting started, road-tripped it from town to town, showing up at radio stations offering to do on-air interviews to promote her music.

I know this because I saw the movie Coal Miner's Daughter, before which I had no idea who she was.
posted by bingo at 5:58 PM on April 27, 2004

Modern country stations play banal pop with country instruments.
posted by Satapher at 6:06 PM on April 27, 2004

Get ready for hick hop....

But as for me, I'll take Nanci. For you, Loretta's fine.
posted by weston at 6:27 PM on April 27, 2004

Ah, Loretta. Along with Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton, part of the holy trinity of country women. Jack White's been hit or miss with me, but he seems to be sincere on this, so I'll have to check it out.

Thanks for the link.
posted by jonmc at 6:37 PM on April 27, 2004

Brief aside: That's sorta understandable, though, isn't it?
Not really, a cover is a cover no matter how much better it is than the original (your mileage may vary). To me it just shows ignorance (that's ignorant, they're ignorant - [grin]) and a lack of respect.

I think that's what Jack White was trying to prevent...a bunch of bored kids, who have no idea how important this woman is to music (non-genre specific), from walking out/heckling/being a nuisance to an artist he respects. Kinda sad when you think about it.

Like the people who say they like all kinds of music except rap or country. thank goodness for Lore Brand Comics(tm).
posted by raygun21 at 6:39 PM on April 27, 2004

mp3's here
posted by oliver_crunk at 6:51 PM on April 27, 2004

Let me play devil's advocate and say that in the case of a lot of these artists who get "reinvigorated" by the young whippersnappers, it's not just cultural perception. A lot of the time, the stuff they (the legendary artists) were making immediately beforehand just plain sucked -- once you achieve a certain level of legend-hood, it's easy for the quality controls to get slackened. A young artist who hasn't yet become cynical, and who's got a deep wellspring of love for the legendary figure, can wipe that off.

I'll be buying Loretta's album the very moment I get some money in my hand; I've only heard "Portland Oregon" and a few seconds of "Miss Being Mrs." but I'm already in love.
posted by logovisual at 7:03 PM on April 27, 2004

And my apologies for the mixed metaphor above. Wipe off the slackened quality controls, eh? What got spilled on 'em?
posted by logovisual at 7:03 PM on April 27, 2004

Banjo, mando, hell yeah.

I remember being baffled by the reactions one day when I brought in a Bill Monroe disc to work. I was realizing that the raw quality I loved in punk was best appreciated by my older-self in older country.

One by one, my younger co-workers came in to mock the music, just as I would have done for them if they'd been listening to disco. I think the idea of moving from the Ramones and The Groovie Ghoulies to Monroe and Flatt and Scruggs was some kind of classist faux-pas.

Now, of course, it's kinda predictable, and probably was even at the time.

As for the younger-producer, older-artist deal, I'm all for it, but by the time Cash died, Rubin's work was as predictable and borderline exploitative as the overproduced Nashville horse-pucky of the mid-seventies.

No that I hold either against the singer. A man's gotta eat.
posted by mwhybark at 7:15 PM on April 27, 2004

I've listened to the tracks, and while I still love Loretta, I have to say I'm disappointed. The noisy production andf lumbering beats overwhelm Ms. Lynn's sense of nuance and nearly drowns her out in places. It's a complaint I've had with some of the White Stripes own material and with others in the "garage revival" pack like the Vines and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

I wanted to like it, I really did but it's similar to some of those projects in the 60's where theyd record an old blues singer and dress him up with wah-wah guitars and echoey production. I'm sure Jack White's motives were good, but his heavy hand kinda ruined a good idea.

The "Mrs, Leroy Brown" song was alright, if that's any consolation.
posted by jonmc at 8:05 PM on April 27, 2004

Electric Mud-level, jmc?
posted by mwhybark at 10:19 PM on April 27, 2004

I think much of this rediscovery is from someone at the beginning of their career making a mental checklist of whom they would like to produce as some form of a payback. Said artist struggles, gets famous and then has enough cache to rescue their influences from an anonymous ending. Rick Rubin was not the first to do this - I recall Tom Petty talking about how influential and under-appreciated Del Shannon was, and he ended up producing an album for Del.
Country Music has always been adventuresome in many ways, but the production values (other than the great Owen Bradley and sometimes in spite of Buck Owens) and artistic credibility behind many albums have been quite suspect. It took Rick Rubin to ask Johnny Cash what he wanted to play - supposedly the first time Johnny had been asked that since his sessions with Sam Phillips. (That was probably about 200 albums ago in Johnny's life.)
And yes, I would have to agree with mwhybark - Johnny's last box set would have been better served with an edit on all but the disc of his mother's favorite songs. Each of the CDs they worked together on had some surprising filler (I still love U2's One in spite of Johnny's go at it) but they still woke a bunch of people up who needed some waking.
As a final note, I think David Byrne has done an incredible job of introducing the unwashed to countless great Brazilian artists as well as Shuggie Otis. He has revitalized many an undeservedly unappreciated artist's career through reissues, tours and new CDs. Maybe not the Rick Rubin of South American music, but worthy of praise nonetheless.
posted by TomSophieIvy at 10:46 PM on April 27, 2004

/me loves Jack White and Loretta Lynn. Go figure. I featured both of them in my show tonight. Music is important. (Did I ever tell you about wrapping headphones around my pregnant stomach? No, i didn't.)
posted by maggieb at 11:13 PM on April 27, 2004

It's a funny thing, this. I saw Elton John play with Ryan Adams a couple of years ago and thought 'washed up crooner tries to regain some credibility while starfucking indie artist tries to make it big'. But now Jack and Loretta seems a perfectly reasonable combination to me. I can't quite pinpoint the difference between the two, but they strike me in very different ways.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:33 AM on April 28, 2004

Heh, I look at Elton John with artists like Ryan Adams and Eminem and I think "chickenhawk," and not in the war-blogger sense.
posted by keswick at 9:16 AM on April 28, 2004

Music is important

Everything is important.
posted by Satapher at 3:28 PM on April 28, 2004

I've listened to the tracks, and while I still love Loretta, I have to say I'm disappointed. The noisy production andf lumbering beats overwhelm Ms. Lynn's sense of nuance and nearly drowns her out in places.

I've gotta respectfully disagree here, Jon. I've written a review on my blog that addresses that point. Mind you, I'm not overly familiar with her work, but to me it sounds much more like a '70s country record than a '00s garage rock record. Well, except for "Have Mercy."
posted by arto at 1:01 AM on April 29, 2004

If Jack White's name wasn't attached nobody would even begin to have a problem with it. You don't find music; Music finds you. It doesnt make you who you are. It doesn't define you as a person. You're a brick wall as far as its concerned. Drop the baggage and just listen.
posted by Satapher at 11:34 AM on April 29, 2004

for archival purposes:
excellent Lucinda Williams profile in the Los Angeles Times:

In the fragile "Car Wheels," Williams writes of a woman sitting in a kitchen in Macon, Ga., listening to Loretta Lynn on the radio, the smell of coffee, eggs and bacon in the room.

She's thinking about something or someone missing from her life, and she finally throws open the screen door in search of it or him. With her little girl, she jumps into a car and begins a journey. The music has the rural, folk-country tone of a black-and-white photo.

Cotton fields stretching miles and miles

Hank's voice on the radio

Telephone poles, trees and wires fly on by

Car wheels on a gravel road.

The final verse zeroes in on the little girl, the first clue that the story may be more about her than the troubled woman.

Child in the backseat, about four or five years

Lookin' out the window

Little bit of dirt mixed with tears

Car wheels on a gravel road.

Williams doesn't have notes that trace the evolution of the song, but she remembers piecing it together. "When I start on a song, I know what I am trying to say usually," she says.

"A lot of times I see songs that just seem like a lot of different ideas kind of thrown in there, but nothing cohesive. It's like someone went, 'Here's an interesting line, and here's an interesting line,' and on, but the song doesn't add up to anything. You want to tell a story that makes sense."

posted by matteo at 6:36 PM on May 26, 2004

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