Loretta Lynn's Back And She's Still Country

Battered by personal tragedies, singer rallies with new album.

NASHVILLE — Dazzled by the freakish success of Garth Brooks in the early '90s, mainstream Nashville record companies have been releasing more marketing campaigns than music for the past five years. But now Loretta Lynn is back, and she wants to set everybody straight.

Bringing country music back into its right mind is not something that Lynn set out to do consciously, she said. It's just that she's one of those artists who have instincts for what's happening. The situation now, Lynn said, is a lot like it was in the early '60s, when she first came to Nashville from her native Kentucky.

"I didn't realize country was pop back then," she said. "That boy Johnny Horton was singin' 'North to Alaska,' and Ferlin Husky had 'Wings of a Dove' and Patsy [Cline] and Jim Reeves was singin' pop songs. I walked in with somethin' little that told a story ['I'm a Honky Tonk Girl' (1960)], and it went right on the charts."

Now Lynn's hoping it will happen again. "I didn't realize people were really hungry for country music," the Coal Miner's Daughter said after her single "Country in My Genes" (RealAudio excerpt) started getting picked up by country radio last week. "Here I don't put out a record for years, and then I realize country music's in trouble, and I just thought, 'Hey, we need a country record!' "

Lynn, who has charted 56 country albums, parted ways with her longtime label, MCA, in the late '80s during mainstream country music's youth movement. She continued to tour until personal tragedies mounted, with the deaths of her husband, Mooney Lynn; her brothers, J. Lee Webb and Herman Webb; and her close friend Tammy Wynette. Of late, the pendulum has started to swing again in her direction, and she was ready when a new record label devoted to more traditional country, Audium, called her up.

Lynn Personifies Country Music

She bought a new touring bus and went into the studio with renowned musician and producer Randy Scruggs to make Still Country. The resulting album, out Sept. 12, and the way in which Lynn went about making it, define what classic country music's all about. To wit:

Country singers are real. "We made this whole album in a month," Lynn said. "I told Randy I didn't want to do one line one day and another line the next. I didn't want him messin' with my voice. I told him, 'If I go flat, leave it that way, and if we go sharp leave it that way.' And we did."

Country songs tell stories. "Every one of these songs tell a story," Lynn said. "Today [country songs] are all fantasy songs. People will never remember 'em. The songs that'll live tell stories. Just listen to 'Hold Her' " (RealAudio excerpt).

Country singers sing about what they know. "When I started pickin' these songs, I didn't realize I was pickin' my own life out. I've lost 12 people in four years. 'On My Own Again' (RealAudio excerpt) made me cry for eight days."

Country singers let their emotions show. Lynn's voice breaks into a sob on "I Can't Hear the Music" (RealAudio excerpt), a song about the loss of her husband, whom she called "Doo," in 1996. " 'I can't hear the music.' Doo would tell me that the whole time he was sick. I thought he didn't want me to sing anymore. Every time I'd start writin' that, I'd start cryin', so I called one of my writers [Cody James] and I was tellin' him the story, and about three days later, he brought me the song. When we were cuttin' it, I just couldn't get through it, and Randy said, 'Loretta, think of somethin' you want really bad.' So there was a candy machine out in the hall and I really wanted a Snickers bar. So I kept my mind on that Snickers bar and I finished that song."

Country singers never give up. Lynn didn't sing at all for a year after her husband died. Then she had a visit from Doc Turner, her old doctor from her home of Butcher Hollow, Ky. Turner told her that before Mooney Lynn died, he had told Turner to give Loretta a little time, and then to tell her to start singing again. "And I said, 'I'll do it,' " Loretta Lynn said. "It's my job."