Bass Performance Hall has certainly been a touchstone for ruminations on the nature of longevity in country music this week, with George Jones playing Thursday night and Loretta Lynn following on Saturday.
Perhaps the lesson for the Ol’ Possum is that consuming great quantities of drugs and alcohol doesn’t make for the most impressive career retrospective. For Ms. Lynn, who certainly sacrificed a great deal of her life to the commercial music machine, her vibrant performance made Mr. Jones’ seem even more ghostly and wan by comparison.
Seeming to take cues from the audience for songs like “Honky Tonk Girl” (her first hit, in 1960), Ms. Lynn’s power and vitality were hard to ignore. Surrounded by family members, including son (and class clown) Ernie, she gave equally immediate readings of signature tunes like “Blue Kentucky Girl” and the heartbreaking “Here I Am Again.”
Of course, it helps to have a higher message, and one of the things that has long made Ms. Lynn more than just a country singer is her subtext of female empowerment, often dating back to a time when such a message was unknown in pop (let alone country) music.
Minor hits like “Your Squaw is on the Warpath” (1968), and No. 1 hits like “Fist City” (1967) and “The Pill” (1974) all take a traditional approach to issues of newfound feminine identification.
Even less politically overt tunes like “You Ain’t Woman Enough (to Take My Man)” (1966) still take the point of view of an aggressive, proactive woman, hardly the usual pop-country doormat of the time.
All that power and self-determination were on display for a full house at Bass Hall on Saturday night as Ms. Lynn joked with her band and the audience, telling stories and exchanging banter.
Her recent renaissance got a nod with “Portland Oregon,” a song from her collaboration with Jack White on the critically acclaimed Van Lear Rose. It’s a tribute to her enduring vitality that this 2004 hit sounded just as immediate as songs 40 years older.
Matt Weitz is a Dallas freelance writer.