Fans of garage-rockers The White Stripes discovered a very unexpected sentence in the liner notes of the band’s 2001 album White Blood Cells: “The White Stripes would like to dedicate this album to Loretta Lynn.”
Were they kidding? Could these 20-something rock roughhousers really idolize a country legend 40 years their elder? Was Stripes leader Jack White serious when he called Loretta “the greatest female singer/songwriter of the 20th century”?
The proof is Van Lear Rose, Loretta’s first album in four years and best in far longer. Jack White produced, arranged and assembled the band, recording in a little house outside Nashville. His admiration for his heroine’s tunesmithing talent is reflected in the writing credits: Rose is the first album of Loretta originals in decades. Her lyrics are unpretentiously autobiographical, touching on her upbringing, spirituality and the 1996 death of husband Doolittle.
Jack occasionally casts these songs in traditional country settings, but the most interesting tracks find him pushing Loretta into new territory – the rip-snorting rockabilly of “Have Mercy,” the racing rush of “Mrs. Leroy Brown,” the roiling rumble of “Portland, Oregon.”
Cuts like those may alienate longtime Loretta fans. Too bad, because it’s that fearless sense of adventure that makes this album more than just a reminder of Loretta’s greatness – it deepens, expands and enriches our picture of one of country’s most durably colorful stars.