Since the late-'50s, Loretta Lynn has placed her unique Appalachian stamp upon the world of country music. Though her best work was her pioneering feminist anthems ("Don't Come Home a Drinkin' (With Lovin' On Your Mind)," "You Ain't Woman Enough to Take My Man," and the shocking-at-the-time "The Pill"), Lynn has continued to record and tour year after year. Now the world's most famous coal miner's daughter returns with, "Still Country," a mixed batch of musical victuals, partially delicious, a bit half-baked and somewhat overcooked at times. There are some nice moments, though. "I Can't Hear the Music," co-written by Lynn, is an impassioned musical dedication to her deceased husband, Doolittle. Lynn puts real feeling into her vocals and the song soars resultantly. The Lynn-penned "God's Country," set to a rollicking fiddle lick that should satisfy fans of her early music, continues in the vein of the singer's autobiographical songs that detail simple aspects of her childhood. The album might have come out better had Lynn written a few more. The crystalline sheen of "On My Own Again" makes overproduced muck of what could have been a decent tune. Similarly, "Table For Two" finds Lynn in heavenly voice fighting against too many studio gimmicks. "Working Girl," with its gooey, cooing backup harmonies and pedestrian drumming, is just plain bad. The embarrassing "Country In My Genes" is musical Darwinism, with Lynn on the losing end all square, no dance. For diehard fans of Lynn, "Still Country" has a few standout tracks that you're sure to love. But if you're not familiar with classic Loretta Lynn, check out some of her earlier offerings and find out why she's earned her legendary status.
If I Could Only Fly
Speaking of country legends, Merle Haggard's new effort, "If I Could Only Fly" is a poignant and potent work that has Haggard coming across like Clint Eastwood in "Unforgiven." He's the aging legend-turned-family man on "Wishing All These Old Things Were New," but he pulls it off. "Honky Tonk Mama" swings with a confident reservation that is often found in seasoned musicians. The sadness in Haggard's whisky-stained voice bursts through on the haunted-house blues of the title track. The singer also deserves recognition for his prolific writing he wrote or co-wrote nearly every song on the album, a rarity for country musicians of any age these days. It's equally refreshing to hear country music that doesn't pander to popular taste and commercial instincts. On the other hand, with Haggard now signed to underground label Anti, he's clearly trying to pull a Johnny Cash here, right down to the black-and-white photos and the sparse, Rick Rubin-esque production. Fortunately, Haggard uses the concept to his advantage, proving that he rightfully stands alongside Cash and other musicians of his ilk as one of country's finest.