Well-earned pleasant coasting with flashes of effort
At some point, an artist earns the right to coast. Few women or people in country have worked as long and hard as Loretta Lynn, with numerous awards and dozens of albums under her belt. After strokes and broken hips sidelined for, she’s back with one new song and a bunch of re-renditions. Unlike other cover albums, these have no pretense of sparseness or quiet intimacy that gets ruined in the execution. The brashly-titled Still Woman Enough is meant to be a celebration, with lush layers and strings aplenty, yet it probably could have afforded to take more risks or go bigger than it does.
Though this term rarely makes sense, Lynn’s classic material is genuinely timeless in its simplicity and charm and has influenced virtually all female artists who followed her, including some of the guest features here. Though her voice has certainly changed with time, few have her effortless charisma or her rich timbre that conveys so much experience and thought, and the final verse of “Where No One Stands Alone” proves she can still belt her lungs out.
The music is almost exactly what one would expect: constant deft acoustics and pedal steel notes with the occasional fiddle, strings or piano. There’s still a tender, timeless warmth to the instrumentation, and the forceful harmonies and guitar solo on “I Saw the Light,” the plucky solo and more gentle vocal cushion on “Keep on the Sunny Side” and the rapid-fire banjo strumming and side-wise rhythm of “I Wanna Be Free” add some melodic complexity. The guest performances are strong as well; Reba McEntire and Carrie Underwood help the opening title track with a powerful hook, and Margo Price locks into the sardonic wit of “One’s On The Way,” especially on the bewildered bridge and the trade-off in the final lines. While no song on the record is bad thanks to Lynn’s performance and the organic instrumentation, it takes till the second half for the riskier, more interesting renditions to come in with the heavily arranged “My Love” and “Where No One Stands Alone.”
The sequencing as a whole is rather odd, though it’s cool to hear Tanya Tucker on the closing “You Ain’t Woman Enough.” It works as an obvious thematic bookend along with the title track, the song’s unrepentant spitefulness leaves the album on a sour note. The spoken-word take on her classic “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” presented with gravitas without coming across as overdramatic, seems like a better fit to close it.
Again, the record is meant to be a celebration, yet some minor keys or sense of darkness beyond the oak-rish vocals would have supported the misery of “Honky Tonk Girl” and helped to break up the homogeneity. Not that Still Woman Enough is more than enough and Loretta Lynn deserves a cooldown period following a couple of health scares, but the oddball “Portland, Oregon” and its rumbling drums and buzzing guitars proved Lynn was still willing to take risks deep into her career, so what does she have to lose by going all the way?