Full Circle Loretta Lynn Sony
Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin Willie Nelson Sony
Two American masters and octogenarians have just released new albums, but Loretta Lynn and Willie Nelson have very different recent track records. It’s been 12 years since the self-styled coalminer’s daughter put out her last album, the Grammywinning, Jack Whiteproduced Van Lear Rose.
On the other hand, Summertime is merely Nelson’s first album this year. In fact since this was released he has already unleashed another song, the timely and quite true at time of writing Still Not Dead Again Today. There’s no attempt to hide the years in their voices. There is wear and tear to be heard, for sure, but both Lynn and Nelson retain the core of what has made them great singers all these years.
For Lynn, it is her proud backwoods brazenness. She’ll be 84 in a couple of weeks but she has such thundering conviction that when she offers a lift to Fist City you believe she could still find it on the map, without reading glasses. Nelson (83 next month) remains a master of phrasing and, given the quality of material on show, Summertime is an understated delight, one that was presumably inspired by his selection as the 2015 recipient of the Library Of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.
Full Circle is reportedly the first batch of more than 90 songs Lynn has recorded with daughter Patsy Lynn Russell and John Carter Cash as producers. In it she revisits a couple of her hits and some Carter Family favourites, but there are also a few new songs including a co-write with Todd Snider. Lynn applies her hard-won wisdom (is there any other kind?) to Always On My Mind, and the regret and self-pity at the centre of previous versions (including a country chart topper for Nelson) falls away. To hear her repeatedly sing “ditn’t” takes some of the polish but none of the shine from the song.
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Similarly, when the Carters’ I Never Will Marry is placed in these knowing hands, the song instantly becomes a heartbreaking widow’s lament.
While Summertime does not rank with the very best of Nelson’s recordings, it is a grand study in how to tackle standards.
In front of a hand-picked band that blends studio guns such as co-producer Matt Rollings and Dean Parks with his band members Bobbie Nelson and Mickey Raphael, Nelson gets inside the songs. He delights in delivering Ira Gershwin’s wordplay and yet also croons with all the intensity of one who has just fallen in love for the first time. In each song he lets George Gershwin’s melody do the heavy lifting as he creates recordings that are instantly recognisable as belonging to both the Gershwins and Nelson.
Nelson guests on Lynn’s album closer Lay Me Down, the single highlight of both albums. It is a warm but unflinching look to the end of the line. Oh that we all could be in this shape this close to our stop.