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.
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.