Full Circle by Loretta Lynn

The kind tendency here might be to give Loretta a pass based on her age (83 as of this writing) and the mere fact that she is, after all, Loretta Lynn. But no one needs to cut her any slack, because Full Circle stands as a wonderful and welcome piece of work, 14 solid songs that shift easily from Appalachian mountain soul to pure country and even spiritual fare.

The kind tendency here might be to give Loretta a pass based on her age (83 as of this writing) and the mere fact that she is, after all, Loretta Lynn.

But no one needs to cut her any slack, because Full Circle stands as a wonderful and welcome piece of work, 14 solid songs that shift easily from Appalachian mountain soul to pure country and even spiritual fare.

Plus, Loretta has simply never sounded better. Her voice rings with clarity and gusto, only occasionally wavering at the end of a phrase.

Listen to her take on the traditional “In the Pines,” where the vocal has to dominate—a tough task for any singer. The production by John Carter Cash and Patsy Lynn Russell, Loretta’s daughter, allows Loretta to shine above the sparse instrumentation, and she carries it off perfectly.

And on the A.P. Carter standard “Black Jack David,” Loretta sounds like a veritable young sprite, giving the tune the energy and winking jocularity the song requires.

The “full circle” theme becomes clear as Loretta revisits a few of her past works: the lovely “Whispering Sea,” the first song she ever wrote, as she notes in the spoken introduction, “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven” and the immortal rough-and-ready anthem “Fist City.” Each has its own original flavor, never coming off as mere rehashes or filler material.

“Fist City,” in particular, sounds as feisty and in-your-face as it did in 1968.

Loretta also takes a stab at “Always on My Mind,” and while it won’t erase Willie Nelson’s classic, her version carries some extra poignancy and adds just the right touch of ache to the heart.

Willie actually shows up on the finale, “Lay Me Down,” while Elvis Costello blends nicely with Loretta on one of the album’s new tunes, “Everything It Takes.”

This marks Loretta’s first full studio album since her 2004 Grammy-winner Van Lear Rose. Let’s hope for more in the near future.