By Jeremy Hallock
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By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
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A bit later on, she'd vigorously defend divorced women (1971's "Rated 'X'") and adulteresses (the same year's "Back Street Affair," with Conway Twitty), and prepare the world for "The Pill" (1972), which features a woman proudly trading maternity dresses for hot pants and mini-skirts, "'Cause now I've got The Pill." It was unprecedented then, and anyone who thinks this hilarious and soulful 29-year-old champion of oral contraceptives is quaint today, ask yourselves: What major corporate label would dare release a cover-version single and video by Faith Hill or Martina McBride to contemporary country audiences?
"They banned it all over the Bible Belt," says Lynn. "But it still went Top 10, 'cause women wanted to hear it. For a while, college students were the only ones who'd talk to me, for underground newspapers. A bunch of 'em'd meet me after shows, and we'd sit around on the floor of my dressing room and talk."
Times have changed, but that doesn't necessarily mean that Lynn has to change with them. What's most impressive about her new album for Audium/Koch, Still Country, is that producer Randy Scruggs (son of Nashville banjo stalwart Earl Scruggs, who plays his signature instrument and acoustic guitar on these recordings) hasn't forced Lynn in any reactionary direction. She's backed by neither drum machine-pounding Young Country arrangements nor retro acousticism. The result is a tasteful and intelligent album, one that doesn't squeeze her into the power-pop ballads that are the specialty of the white-hatted boys and spiky-haired girls of current country radio. She strips the years away on her own: Lynn's voice sounds almost as young and earnest--hungry in the meanest songs, kittenish and flirtatious in the lighter exercises--as when she recorded her first hit in L.A., 1960's I'm a Honky Tonk Girl. She has a plain, technical explanation for the weird youthfulness in her latest vocal delivery.
"You're missin' my harmony," she says, laughing. "And I am, too. I was the first girl in Nashville to record her own harmonies. And now all Nashville is shocked. 'You don't sound like yourself, Loretta.' But [when he was producing the album] Randy said, 'No harmonies with yourself,' and I love 'em. It was part of some new sound. So I said, 'Yeah, but I ain't figurin' on keepin' it up"
The contributions from admiring songwriters are nothing compared to one of her own compositions, "I Can't Hear the Music." She says she's surprised (and, unspokenly, a bit dismayed) at Audium's decision to release this as the second single; it recounts Doolittle's final, bedridden days in 1996 during a cruel bout with diabetes. First he was blinded, then went deaf, and gave Loretta the title of her tune when he painfully whispered that he could no longer hear her comforting bedside singing. The suits have repeatedly offered a very bizarre suggestion to her about this song, from her early attempts in the recording studio to preparations for an upcoming live two-hour tribute on A&E dedicated to her career: "Think about something else when you sing it." Lynn was finally able to lay a decent track, only after--during a long workday without food--she concentrated hard on the Snickers bar she wanted in a nearby vending machine. But she's scared about recreating it live.
"I've never sung ['I Can't Hear the Music'] live," she says. "They want me to start, 'cause they've got the single pressed and ready to deliver. But I'm afraid I can't get through it. I don't wanna hit the stage floor cryin'," she says with a small chuckle. Lynn evinces very little confidence about what re-confronting Mooney's death in front of thousands of fans will do to the seasoned performer who demanded the first ever full drum set on the Grand Ole Opry stage (for the 1968 live debut of her hit "Your Squaw's On the Warpath").
The sorrow in Still Country, however reserved, is still a bit too authentic and ubiquitous for young country programmers. With a single fiddle rising and diving in tearful sympathy, Vince Gill's "Table for Two" and Randy Scruggs' "On My Own Again" are modest but unvarnished weepers about a woman, suddenly abandoned, who can't step into the public world without breaking down. Surprisingly, Lynn admits some regret at the content of her new release. Still recovering from the death of her beloved "Doo," she didn't realize her own obsession in the artistic process.
"I shoulda waited longer," Lynn says solemnly about her selection of the tunes. "I was under the eight-day flu [when I picked the songs]. I shoulda waited till the hurtin' stopped, but you don't know if the hurtin's ever gonna stop. I held out as long as I could while it was holdin' down on me. But too many of 'em sound the same, even though I love the songs. But I guess it's OK--it's what I was feelin' at the time."