For Loretta Lynn’s first album since 2004’s Van Lear Rose, her startlingly great 2004 collaboration with Jack White and his crew, the iconic queen of no-bullshit country music, now 83, looks more backwards than forwards. Culled from a decade’s worth of sessions and co-produced by John Carter Cash – Johnny’s son, whose diapers Lynn changed back in the day – Full Circle is a homey set, with few new songs and no May-December duets or hotshot young rockers, Elvis Costello notwithstanding. There are well-travelled traditional numbers – “Black Jack David,” popularized by the Carter Family, and Kurt Cobain’s beloved “In The Pines” – that one could imagine being sung in a sitting room down in Butcher Holler. And there are a number of re-worked oldies. Lynn’s take on “Always On My Mind” may not replace Elvis’s or Willie’s, but she delivers its bittersweet regrets with potent frailty. On the other hand, her twangy remake of Don Cherry’s mid-Fifties doo-wop pop hit “Band of Gold” beats that version handily. A reprise of her own “Fist City” loses nothing with the years, her mandate to “close your face” still landing like one of modern music’s greatest lyrical bitch-slaps.
Fittingly, just as Lynn brought frankness to other topics, she brings it here to mortality. “Who’s Gonna Miss Me?” is a meditation on legacy co-written with good ol’ gal Lola Jean Dillon (who wrote Lynn’s 1975 hit “When The Tingle Becomes A Chill”), sung in a voice barbed expertly with catches and tremors. Lynn revisits “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven” (“but no one wants to die”) with a touch more gravitas than her 1965 version. And she closes the set with Mark Marchetti’s “Lay Me Down,” a duet with Willie Nelson where both singers declare, “I’ll be at peace when they lay me down” – true in great part, one imagines, because they made country music according to their own visions. This set is another testament to that.