It’s widely speculated Full Circle will be the last release of Loretta Lynn’s groundbreaking career in country music; from the wistful “Who’s Gonna Miss Me?,” to the album’s only duet, the bittersweet “When They Lay Me Down” (with Willie Nelson, just a year her junior), there are enough cues here to show Lynn is accepting, with no lack of grace, the measure of her years.
The album is a deeply tender, low-frills effort, miles from the slick sheen of her excellent 2004 collaboration with Jack White, Van Lear Rose. It was recorded at the Cash Cabin Studio with John Carter Cash and Lynn’s daughter Patsy Lynn Russell, and resounds with the celebrated intimacy of the studio, a warmth that also lends credence to the wide spectrum of Lynn’s legacy.
Of course, in the country world, “circle”-anything will nod to the Carter family, and there’s two A.P. Carter tracks here; the autoharp jangled “I Never Will Marry,” and the roving reel “Black Jack David,” both well-adapted to the crackling glow of Lynn’s now seasoned vocals, as well as the talents of an intuitive session crew.
This time around, though, the fight of “Fist City” packs less punch; nearing 83, you can better imagine Lynn with a grandchild on her lap than sharpening her claws for a cat fight. Still, it’s a fine selection that fits the album’s retrospective feel, even though most of its 13 tracks are either new or reinvented traditionals.
“Whispering Sea” is another cut from Lynn’s back catalog, preceeded by the only spoken word piece on the album, studio banter about the song—the first she ever wrote, she recalls—and the beginning of her career. It’s a lovely story and you only wish there were others like it. We all know she has them, and a handful more would have added wonderful context to an already endearing collection.
As restrained and elegant as Full Circle can be, it’s also a righteous reckoning that fully acknowledges, as only the best country songs can, the basic truths of the human experience. The honky tonk vigor of Lynn original “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven,” (complete with the chorus, “And nobody wants to die”) recasts the quest for immortality with refreshing honesty. And Elvis Costello, whose backing vocals simply melt into “Everything it Takes” (which Lynn co-wrote with Todd Snider), is the perfect partner for the country noir tune about uneasy love.
Overall, Full Circle is a smoldering, contemplative triumph. It won’t take listeners long to like it, and unlike an album like Van Lear Rose, it resists the urge to be compared to her many other releases. Whether or not this is her swan song, this is the Loretta Lynn we’ve always known: wise and wise-cracking, mature and modern with a traditional heart, forever the coal miner’s daughter.