Tribute albums rarely work. Sometimes those trusted with covering a well-known song by a big artist fail to live up to the original version of the song and other times the artist just can’t come close to the artist he or she is trying to imitate. Other times the covering artist simply takes too much liberty with a big, well-known song and ends up missing the point of what made the song and artist popular to begin with. Fortunately, these things aren’t a problem with Coal Miner’s Daughter: A Tribute to Loretta Lynn. First, I’m glad someone had the idea to honor Loretta Lynn before she’s dead. It seems too often we get tribute albums after a big star like Lynn has passed away. What works well with this album is that since it honors a big icon in country music like Loretta Lynn, the album’s producers managed to involve some of country music’s biggest artists (and a few others outside of country). The final product is a really decent collection of Loretta Lynn’s hits from over the years covered by some big artists.
The album starts off with “Don’t Come Home A Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)” covered by Gretchen Wilson. This version of the song is slightly more upbeat than the original and while I appreciated the fact that it’s sped up a little and the attempt is made to make it sound a little more modern but as with most cover songs, it really doesn’t measure up to the original. With Gretchen Wilson singing it, I wish she’d just taken it to the extreme and completely made it her own with a bit of an edge because this version sounds like an undecided compromise between honoring the original but being reserved. Lee Ann Womack’s version of “I’m A Honky Tonk Girl” is a bit dull and boring, turning what was a bit of an upbeat track into a slow, dragging ballad-type of song and it doesn’t really do Lynn’s first song much justice in my opinion. The album finally finds its legs with The White Stripe’s cover of “Rated X”. While Jack White’s voice and singing style makes it hard to pick up parts of the lyrics, I really enjoyed this stripped-down version of Lynn’s old song. The group found a way to make it fit within their own style and sound without completely making it boring or too wild.
“You’re Lookin’ At Country” by Carrie Underwood is another home run for the album. Having listened to Underwood for a while and having been a bit disenchanted with her past few musical efforts, this track really showcases Underwood’s voice while playing pretty close to the original version of the song. Underwood really gets into the song and packs it full of attitude and swagger and when her voice is paired with this classic track, it really does make for a fun listening. The classic Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn track “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man” gets a modern day remake and makes for one of the album’s best collaborations. Alan Jackson and Martina McBride don’t change much about the arrangement of the song and honor the original by not changing much but both sound great on this track. One of the head-turning artists on this album is Paramore who aren’t exactly known for their country songs since they mostly sing alternative/pop music but they do a great version of “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)” and is one of the tracks on here that I’ve had a replay since getting my hands on it. They are a good example of what a good cover artist will do: the lead singer of Paramore’s voice shines on the track.
“Love Is the Foundation” feature’s Faith Hill’s great vocals. I felt Hill struck a great balance between making the song sound as classic as the original while really belting and making the song sound like one of her own. “After the Fire Is Gone” is another Twitty/Lynn track that’s covered this time by Steve Earl & Allison Moorer. Unlike the last duet on the album, this one is just okay. It’s pretty close to the original and unlike “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man” I didn’t feel the same fire and tenacity as the last duet. Not bad but not entirely memorable.
“If You’re Gone Too Long” is a track I was really looking forward to but was a bit let down by. When I saw that it featured Reba McEntire, I really was interested to see how an artist and performer of her magnitude would take on Loretta Lynn. Unfortunately, she played it close to the hip and gave a vocal performance that felt a bit too close to good karaoke than a performance that could have been unique and truly “Reba” like. Mediocrity continues with Kid Rock’s cover of “I Know How” where he completely massacres and guts the song. This was, to me, the worst track on the entire album. I understand that he wanted to make the song truly his own, and he does just that, but he took a good song and just pooed all over it and made it hardly listenable.
The album improves dramatically with Lucinda Williams’ “Somebody Somewhere (Don’t Know What He’s Missing Tonight)”. This track is a grower. The first time listening to it didn’t impress me much but after I gave it another go, I picked up on how untouched, raw and real Williams’ voice is on this track and it gives the words of the song some real authenticity and raw emotion to this ballad. The album ends with Sheryl Crow, Miranda Lambert and Loretta Lynn herself take on the iconic “Coal Miner’s Daughter”. Their voices work well together though I found it was Sheryl Crow’s vocals that really stood out.
For a tribute album, this one packs a punch. With an all-star line up and a smattering of some of Loretta Lynn’s greatest hits, this makes for an enjoyable listening experience. Like any album full of cover songs or something that could be classified as a “greatest hits” collection there are some flaws: songs that probably would have made for a more pleasurable listening experience, a lack of songs from all eras of her music career, songs that really didn’t go well with the performer’s voices (Kid Rock) and others that could have used a bit more personality and originality from the covering artist (Reba McEntire). Still, these songs and this one artist feel necessary and worthy of listening to. Similar to one of the tracks on this album, when you listen to this album you’re listening to country and it’s original country before it became infused with pop and computer-enhanced singing and special effects.
Listen To These: “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man”, “You’re Lookin’ At Country”, “Rated X”, “Love is the Foundation”
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