All artists should strive to maintain four attributes as they grow older. They should strive to have the pure charisma still evident in John Prine. They should strive to have the drive and energy still evident in Willie Nelson. They should strive to have the humor and wit still evident in Dolly Parton. Lastly, they should strive to have the pure, raw vocal power still evident in Loretta Lynn.
Surely nobody actually thought a stroke and a broken hip would keep Lynn down. The living legend has just released her third album in a series of five produced by John Carter Cash and daughter Patsy Lynn Russell titled Wouldn’t It Be Great.
While 2016’s Full Circle felt a bit tedious at points, Wouldn’t It Be Great captures Lynn in rare form. For someone in her eighties, Lynn sounds about 50 years younger, easily beating out many artists in their prime today. She’s able to sing the high note of the title track (which occurs in said title) with absolute ease, and many of the other re-recorded tracks feel just as fresh and vibrant as they did when they were first released.
What’s also appreciated about this album is the pure variety it offers in terms of the instrumentation and production. “Ruby’s Stool” throws in some nice barroom piano to help the lighter, fun mood, and Lynn even adopts a full bluegrass sound on “Ain’t No Time To Go.”
While the newer songs blend in well with the older songs, it really should be highlighted just how strong the newer tracks are. At a certain point in their careers, we accept that artists have already delivered their best for us and that the best days are behind. Lynn already proved to be an anomaly to that with Van Lear Rose, but tracks like “Ruby’s Stool,” “I’m Dying For Someone To Live For” and “Lulie Vars” all feel like staples in her discography. “Ruby’s Stool” is a classic feisty Lynn song, and “Lulie Vars” is a wonderfully done murder ballad. No offense to Lynn’s “Darkest Day,” which is also on here, but “I’m Dying For Someone To Live For” feels like a more fully developed version of that song, with Lynn getting personal for a moment to explore her loneliness with lyrics that read like poetry.
On that note, Wouldn’t It Be Great finds Lynn adopting a similar motif that past albums have adopted – finality. From making right with God on “God Makes No Mistakes” and “The Big Man” to trying to hold on to what’s left in the title track or “Ain’t No Time To Go,” Lynn accepts that all good things come to an end with the same trepidation that most of us do. Of course, there’s a part of this album that says Lynn is also content with all she’s done in her life. “Another Bridge To Burn” really says it all in the title despite being a breakup song, but even the unearthing of older tracks such as her tribute to her mother on “Angel Mother” or the celebration of her upbringing on “Coal Miner’s Daughter” help add to the layers of this album.
Now, for fans who are new to Lynn’s discography and don’t even understand what “greatest hits compilations” are, Wouldn’t It Be Great would be an excellent starting point for the young explorers. However, for older fans, considering six out of the 13 tracks here are re-recordings, with the majority of them coming from the second half of this album, it does feel like some of the cuts such as “The Darkest Day” or “Don’t Come A Drinkin’” (which while nice, really doesn’t seem to fit here) could have been left off in favor of maybe one more newer track. Out of the new tracks, the only one which scans as plain and undercooked is “These Ole Blues.” Even the melody of “Lulie Vars” feels a bit one-dimensional.
When the biggest complaint boils down to that though, it definitely shows the marks of a truly great album. Wouldn’t It Be Great may be half and half in terms of newer and older material, but all of the songs fit together nicely into one very cohesive project. Very rarely will you find artists at the top of their game artistically and especially vocally as Lynn is, but she’s always forced other artists to take notes as she maintains her status as one of country music’s best anyway.
Thumbs up (7.5/10)
Best tracks: “Ain’t No Time To Go,” “Ruby’s Stool,” “Wouldn’t It Be Great,” “I’m Dying For Someone To Live For”
Worst track: “These Ole Blues”