Now that Jack White (of the White Stripes, y'all) has done gone and produced the legendary Loretta Lynn's latest, VanLearRose, do you suppose this county's young(ish) hipsters will finally come out and give her the audience she deserves?
When we saw the lovely Miss Lynn at the Crazy Horse two years ago, there wasn't a soul under 40—nor a one who wasn't the worst kind of self-satisfiedly middlebrow redneck. Anyone for Applebee's?
Miss Lynn—best friends with Patsy Cline (who helped her get her big break) and probably the first woman in country music to write her own, deeply personal songs (paving the way for the poetry of Dolly Parton, but few others, as most country women still rely on the Nashville machine)—is one of those luscious hybrids, like Willie Nelson, Steve Earle and St. Johnny, who can keep the whole spectrum happy. Lynn was banned all over the radio dial when she came out with her ode to birth control, "The Pill," and in 1966, "Dear Uncle Sam" was among the first recordings to question the Vietnam War. But following 9/11, she had it both ways, including "Dear Uncle Sam" in her set list following the advent of the Iraq War (The Sequel), while also performing "God Bless America Again."
At the Crazy Horse, Miss Lynn sang the pretty refrain "God bless America again/You see all the troubles that she's in/Wash her pretty face, dry her eyes and then/God bless America again," while the dorky backup singer with the "yakkety-yak" bass recited such plaintive lines as "Why don't we put the Bibleback in the classroom? And what's so wrongwith 'UnderGod'?" He went on to inform us that we as a nation need to be back down on our knees—although I think he specifically added something about not being damned-to-hell sodomites—and then and only then, will God bless America. Again.
Miss Lynn was feeling poorly that night. Her hand shook sometimes as she sang, and she would reach up with the other to hold on and keep it company. She said she'd had a bug since the start of her tour, and at the beginning of the show she asked if we'd mind if she sat. And even though she was sitting, with her legs crossed and with a bug, Miss Lynn belted into every corner of the couple-hundred-person room, the single most charming woman I have everseen on a stage, whether she was talking about drunk Indians ("Them Indians is so dumb it don't matter anyway!") or purring at the tables of loving drunks in the front row. "Have a drink on me," she told 'em, grinning broadly.
She was a tiny queen in a hive of men playing mostly pretty or rollicking music, although when she let the band take over, it was as distressing as when Buck Owens' band, the Buckaroos, broke into "Play That Funky Music" at the Crystal Palace.
Miss Lynn's insufferably dorky Nashville band were six pieces of the worst kind of simpering fools, with three additional dorks on backup vocals. They insisted on playing such Nashville twaddle as the Gatlin Brothers' "All the Gold in California" and "Don't Rock the Jukebox" by none other than AlanJackson. But worst of all? The band never learned the adage "Be friendly, but not familiar." They simpered and smirked and leered at Miss Lynn as if they were doing her some kind of favor.
For a more respectful treatment of Loretta Lynn, do check out VanLearRose. Her outstanding duet with Jack White, "Portland, Oregon," where they get smashed on sloe gin fizzes drunk by the pitcher and not by the glass, is a furiously sexy song, and one that treats her as a sexual being without being condescending about it just 'cause she's gone and turned 70. There's also a sexy, stripper-thumping, Wanda Jacksonish rockabilly, "Have Mercy," but most of the rest has to grow on you. It's Kitty Wells-ish, soft and slow and straight up-and-down, sounding a lot like her old classic "Don't Come Home A-Drinking (With Loving on Your Mind)." There's lots and lots of songs about fighting trashy blondes for the favors of her man—her husband, Doo, to whom she was married for 47 years (and from the age of 13) despite the fact that his scoundrel ways were laid out for every radio listener in the nation for a good four decades.
But when you go see Miss Lynn at the Galaxy Saturday, don't bother asking for "Coal Miner's Daughter," the song/autobiography/Academy Award-nominated movie that made her a national star. "I hate 'Coal Miner's Daughter,'" she announced when we saw her, and dismissed it like that."But someone asked for 'The Pill,'" she said, and turned to her band. "Let's give it to 'em!" And she and her dorky Nashville band did. It was a little showstopper where Miss Lynn pantomimed dealing with all her fussy brats while women marched for rights in New York, and she wasn't gonna have no more babies, because there's number four, and damn it, she's on the phone! Oh, and she's got The Pill.
God bless Loretta Lynn. Again.
LORETTA LYNN AT THE GALAXY CONCERT THEATRE, 3503 S. HARBOR BLVD., SANTA ANA, (714) 957-0600. SAT., 8 P.M. $75.
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