Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Deserving Tribute

Forget for a moment that the music business has labels and formats and all that stuff that gets people finicky over what music they listen to. You know what I mean, it's that momentary hesitation if someone tells you to listen to a rap song, when perhaps classical is your thing. Today, I'm going to write about a lady who began her life in the coal mining region of Kentucky and is now a revered legend in the music business. Indeed, without this woman's talent, drive and determination, the female performers of today would have a much tougher time negotiating the perils of the music business.

Born in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky on April 14, 1934, Loretta Lynn has lived a life that is to be admired. Marrying at the age of 14 to Oliver aka "Mooney" Lynn and moving to the United States Northwest, Loretta began pursuing her professional music career in 1960. Having been signed to the independent label Zero Records, 4 children in tow and with the encouragement of her husband, Loretta and family began a cross-country journey to promote her first recording "I'm A Honky Tonk Girl." Loretta began her career when female singers in any genre were extremely rare. At that time, the only star "girl" singers in country music were Kitty Wells, Jean Sheppard and Patsy Cline. It was through Patsy Cline's friendship and mentoring, that Loretta would begin to write the hits that would shape her career and help establish her place in music history.

Self-penned hits like "You Ain't Woman Enough to Take My Man", "Dear Uncle Sam" and "The Pill" addressed such topics as infidelity, the human cost of the Vietnam War and birth control. Topics not easily discussed in the 1960's and 1970's, least of all by a female country music superstar. It would be Loretta's biographical hit "Coal Miner's Daughter" that would catapult her in to super-stardom. The song also spawned an autobiography and the "Coal Miner's Daughter" movie that earned Sissy Spacek an Oscar for her portrayal of Loretta Lynn.

Showing her versatility as a performer, Loretta partnered with the late, great Conway Twitty in the early 1970's to create some of the most memorable duets in country music history. Together, Conway and Loretta would win the Country Music Association's Duo of the Year Award 5 times. To recognize the significance of this accomplishment, consider that their competition in this category was typically George Jones and Tammy Wynette, and Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton. I think we can all safely say that Loretta's greatest professional achievement was her induction in to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988. I believe it's only a matter of time before the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame follows suit with a more than appropriate induction.

In recent year's, Loretta has been back in the spotlight for all the right reasons. The tragic death of one of her son's in 1984, followed by health issues and the death of her husband Mooney, has limited her recording output and her touring over the years. That all changed with the 2004 release of Van Lear Rose, and album produced by Jack White of the White Stripes. Jack White has long professed his love and admiration for Loretta Lynn. Their work on that project earned both of them a well deserved Grammy award for Best Country Album that same year.

This year, 2010, sees Loretta regaining the spotlight once again. It's one thing to have one tribute album released in your honor, it says quite a lot when there's two issued in the same year. Earlier this year, young Eileen Jewell issued Butcher Holler, a tribute album to Loretta Lynn. Released independently, the album takes a very understated approach to the production which lends well to the authenticity of the music. Jewell's vocals are immaculate. The album offers excellent interpretations of classic Lynn material, old and new. This is one album I will be going out of my way to purchase.

The next tribute album is gathering considerably more fanfare, and with good reason. It is going to be released on Columbia Records Nashville, one of the largest labels in mainstream country music. The unique aspect of this album, is the inclusion of such non-mainstream/Americana artists as Steve Earle and Allison Moorer (covering the Conway and Loretta classic "After the Fire Is Gone") and Lucinda Williams. Rock acts The White Stripes and Paramore also make appearances. Kid Rock, Faith Hill, Carrie Underwood and Gretchen Wilson contribute as well. Perhaps the track I'm looking forward to the most is the collaboration of Alan Jackson and Martina McBride on another Conway and Loretta classic, "Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man." The albums most poignant song has already been released to radio, and that's a collaboration with Miranda Lambert, Sheryl Crow and Loretta Lynn herself, on Lynn's all-time classic, "Coal Miner's Daughter." The album is titled Coal Miner's Daughter: A Tribute to Loretta Lynn and will be released on November 9.

Before I close today's writing, I would like to bring this back to where we started. In a music business that is always looking for that next big artist, the next big hit and the next big profit spike, it's nice to see a major label like Columbia Records Nashville doing something for the music. To see the roster of artists who are contributing to this album is to see the cross-genre appeal that Loretta Lynn has had for decades. They have gathered the finest in mainstream country, rock and Americana together to honor a true legend and pioneer in the music business. Columbia Records Nashville is to be commended for taking on this project. It would be nice to see other major labels follow suit. Perhaps this is a turning point in the recording industry.

Circle November 9 on your calendars folks and pick up this album, it is sure to be a great one. And, while you're at it, be sure to pick up Eileen Jewel's worthy tribute, Butcher Holler, as well. You will not be disappointed.

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