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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.

You can take the girl out of Butcher Holler but ...

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.

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