If Dolly Parton is the ideal contemporary female country singer — one who exudes traditional values while at the same time asserting herself in a manner unlike the Total Woman — then Patsy Cline (who died in a plane crash in 1963) was the ideal traditional female country singer, for whom home and hearth and a good man were everything. As Cline’s friend in fact as well as in spirit, and more importantly, as her direct musical descendant, Loretta Lynn has fashioned a near-perfect tribute album — one that stands with Merle Haggard’s recorded tribute to Bob Wills as a preeminent example of its kind.
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For openers, the material is impeccably chosen. Unlike, say, Buddy Holly, Cline’s best songs were hits, as are all but two of the songs included here. The theme throughout is a simple one — winning and losing at love — but Lynn, like Cline, has such a way of toying with a phrase, of freighting seemingly innocuous lines with a multitude of emotions, that “Walking After Midnight” seems as far removed from “Crazy” as Bruce Springsteen is from Bobby Darin. Furthermore, her voice — a bit husky, a bit nasal, and always revealing of the storm within — cuts through at every turn, compelling in the extreme.
Such a tour de force would go for nought were the production any less sympathetic to the cause. Producer Owen Bradley has wisely stuck closely to original charts (save for a nicely updated, gently swinging version of “Walking After Midnight”) and the uncredited musicians play sparely but with enough fire to make their presence, and this entire album, memorable.