Loretta Lynn is country music incarnate, and that’s not even a point worth arguing. Her 50th studio album, Still Woman Enough, marks her first new project since 2016’s Full Circle, which trafficked heavily in the traditional and takes a similar approach: part time-capsule, part declaration of her legacy, and a little bit of “I ain’t goin’ nowhere!” attitude. This time, she’s brought some younger friends along for the ride and declared this record a “celebration of women in country music.”
For a new album, though, the material is mostly old—some dating back nearly a century. On opening number “Coal Miner’s Daughter (Recitation),” Lynn recites the lyrics to her most famous song—the one that launched her into the country music spotlight—accompanied by a few sparse banjo strings. Her memories of her own life and career loom large throughout. The overall effect is that of a beloved, banged-up scrapbook stuffed with lyrics, song fragments, and love letters. Aided by her own kin—her daughter Patsy Lynn Russell and John Carter Cash co-produced—Lynn has created a loving tribute to herself. Still Woman Enough is a pleasant, nostalgic, occasionally brilliant collection that fits neatly into the country legend’s catalog and introduces her to younger fans who love Margo Price and Kacey Musgraves but haven’t yet found their way back to Lynn and Kitty Wells.
The songs flow like smooth Tennessee whiskey, but Lynn shines brightest on the oldies. She charms on a sweet, simple rendition of the sprightly hymn-inspired classic “Keep on the Sunny Side,” a song first immortalized by the Carter Family in 1928 and then reintroduced to a more contemporary audience via the 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou?. “Honky Tonk Girl” sees her revisiting her very first single (then titled “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl”); in 1960, the song ushered in phase one of Lynn’s success and was a hard-earned hit. Before it took off, she and her husband had spent countless hours driving to country radio stations across the U.S. to beg them to play the record. This hopeful, madcap DIY promotion campaign has become an integral piece of Loretta Lynn lore, and the song itself holds up just fine.
It’s hard to improve on a classic, and this latest version of “Honky Tonk Girl” dials down the original’s saucy swagger for a more knowing, genial tone; it cleans up the barroom pathos in favor of a jauntier approach, and, expectedly, adds improved audio quality. That honky tonk girl has grown up and seen some things along the way. Lynn’s deep, lived-in familiarity with her old songs gives her an incredible edge and makes even her less predictable choices feel less risky. Her take on the traditional folk song “I Don’t Feel At Home Anymore” is a joy despite its downtrodden lyrics, and the gently rollicking “Old Kentucky Home” is pure ear candy; meanwhile, her cover of Hank Williams’ country gospel ode “I Saw the Light” is downright happy. She even puts a little swing on it in contrast to Williams’ piously po-faced original.
While her trademark nasal twang has mellowed out a bit over the decades, updated mainstays like this one illustrate the staying power of her once-in-several-generations voice and show what can happen when technology finally catches up to an artist’s vision. Still Woman Enough is a study in sunny, lush arrangements and positively drips with strings—cello, steel guitar, acoustic guitar, upright bass, fiddle, banjo, and mandolin, the latter of which makes a winsome appearance on the saccharine 1968 ballad “My Love.” It’s a marked contrast to 1971’s “I Wanna Be Free,” which revives the feisty spirit that’s remained a defining feature of her best work; ballads are nice, but anyone can write a love song.
Only Loretta Lynn could’ve written tunes that once felt as transgressive as “One’s On the Way,” which now deftly chronicles the drudgery and frustration of working-class motherhood (and how the women’s liberation movement left those women behind), with help from a clear-voiced Margo Price; or “You Ain’t Woman Enough,” a kicky warning to those who dare cast a wandering eye upon her husband. The latter may as well be seen as Lynn’s answer to “Jolene,” Dolly Parton’s iconic plea to a flame-haired interloper; where Parton begged for mercy, a flinty-edged Lynn happily promised to send any comers straight to fist city—and the addition of outlaw country legend Tanya Tucker on this remake only ups the stakes for those who’d dare disturb that wedded bliss. A new tune, “Still Woman Enough,” featuring Carrie Underwood and Reba McEntire, follows in those rebellious footsteps, with its unabashed nods to aging, sexuality, and hardship; one gets the impression that Lynn may be almost 90 years old, but she’d still pick a switch and hand out a whooping if need be.
It makes sense for her to release an album like this now: a partial retrospective that feels safe and familiar but adds youthful sparkle from a new generation that Lynn can comfortably say she’s inspired. There’s a clear throughline from Lynn to Tucker and McEntire, to Price and Underwood—they’re very different women from different eras, but without Lynn to blaze that trail with honesty and grit in the first place, their paths would’ve been that much thornier. And if Lynn hadn’t weathered all those slings and arrows decades before, who’s to say today’s feminist country artists would’ve found their way at all.
Buy: Rough Trade
(Pitchfork earns a commission from purchases made through affiliate links on our site.)
Catch up every Saturday with 10 of our best-reviewed albums of the week. Sign up for the 10 to Hear newsletter here.