Album Review: Various Artists – Coal Miner’s Daughter: A Tribute to Loretta Lynn
You can take the girl out of Butcher Holler, but you can’t take Butcher Holler out of the girl. Even during Nashville’s glitziest period, Loretta Lynn was both part of that glamour and apart from it: a country girl living not so comfortably in the city. All those frilly, rhinestone-studded dresses never could cover up her country-come-to-town demeanor, but her down-home modesty shine through all the more in gritty songs about real women with real problems.
So it’s not especially surprising that Lynn has influenced so many generations in Nashville and beyond. The selling point of her latest tribute album is its diversity, and considering the low expectations that greet this kind of grab-bag undertaking, any selling point is welcome. Coal Miner’s Daughter includes the obvious acolytes (Gretchen Wilson, Reba McEntire) as well as the not-so-obvious (Paramore, Kid Rock). As a result, it’s a better-than-average tribute, with more than a few pleasant surprises along with the requisite too-faithful covers and ill-advised experiments.
Kicking off the album, Wilson’s version of “Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)” sounds squarely in the redneck woman’s comfort zone, but her vocals sound clipped and stilted, an odd affectation that she’s been indulging lately. On the other hand, McEntire turns “If You’re Not Gone Too Long” into a spry Western swing number with the Time Jumpers, and Carrie Underwood accentuates her twang on “You’re Lookin’ at Country,” just skirting imitation as she makes clear there’s no other way to sing this particular song.
I never thought I’d ever type this next phrase, but Kid Rick turns in a good, gutsy, affectionate interpretation of “I Know How,” changing up the style and switching the gender pronouns. He transforms the song into a classic-rock rave-up that’s part .38 Special, part Shooter Jennings. Even better is the White Stripes’ acoustic “Rated X,” which is as perfectly chosen as it is played: A staple in the band’s live shows, this song about the sexual pressures placed upon divorced women sounds even more profound when you realize Jack White is singing it with his own ex.
Lee Ann Womack and Lucinda Williams bring out the ache and loneliness of “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” and “Somebody Somewhere (Don’t Know What He’s Missing Tonight),” respectively. They’re very different songs—from each other as well as from the originals—yet reveal the despair and longing that inform every one of Lynn’s songs. Compared to these two vets, Hayley Williams sounds particularly weak on “You Ain’t Woman Enough to Take My Man.” Paramore are a surprisingly clever Nashville pop-punk band, so it’s a shame that they didn’t take greater interpretive risks with their cover. It’s just Williams and an acoustic guitar, and it sounds a bit too timid for the subject matter.
Coal Miner’s Daughter is capped by a obligatory version of the title track, with Lynn herself trading verses with Miranda Lambert and Sheryl Crow. Lambert is fine, Crow anonymous, but even into her 70s, Lynn still sounds robust and powerful, playing up the bittersweet nostalgia of the lyrics. It’s a heartfelt moment on an otherwise lackluster cover, but that’s Lynn: Even in the harsh country music industry, she shone simply by being herself.
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