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30 Best Loved Albums - Van Lear Rose

2007 will bring the 30th anniversary of my first rock concert (Kiss, December 2, 1977 – Metropolitan Sports Center). In honor of that momentous event I have decided to use this blog to review my 30 best loved albums. They will not be in any order or progression but I will try to review them musically and why they mean so much to me. I’ll also note if they made the Definitive 200 List. Here's number 14 on the list:

14. Loretta Lynn - Van Lear Rose (2004)

What happens when you cross a 20-something Detroit rocker, his scumbag friends/musicians, and a 70-year old queen of country who’s last relevant record was released in 1972? In the case of Van Lear Rose, you get an album that kicks your ass, mops the floor with it, and then sits you back on your barstool and politely asks “would you like another? while you enthusiastically nod your head yes.

When word came out that Jack White of the White Stripes was working with Loretta Lynn to make a new album my first thought was that this would be one strange album. Sure Jack White was an affirmed “roots music? junkie who’s White Stripes albums not only had some bluesy elements but who also contributed folks songs to a recent Civil War-era movie. But Loretta Lynn, the Coal Miners daughter? It just seemed like some stunt, a play off the Johnny Cash-Rick Rubin collaborations that were making the American Recording sessions some of Cash’s best work in decades. But the reviews of this new album were stellar and I was intrigued. Also a single was released from the album, Portland Oregon, that was just knocking me out. So I took the plunge.

What I heard was a 70-year old woman reminiscing about a one-night stand in Portland; telling us how her daddy won over the prettiest girl in the county; a couple of honky-tonk songs about women stealing her man; a country death song that was second to none; and, a sad lament about being a widow. In short it was amazing. Loretta Lynn apparently wrote all the songs (although I think Have Mercy is at least based on an Elvis song) and Jack White and friends contributed the music. What could have easily turned out as a creepy attempt at bedding down with a younger guy to look hip turns out to be a classic honky tonk album that appealed to both traditionalists and hipsters alike.

Jack White’s music at times just rocks but Loretta Lynn keeps right along at a pace that would shame a woman one-third her age. Highlights include the aforementioned Portland Oregon with Jack White sharing the mic with LL as they sing about a one-night stand of Sloe Gin Fiz and ask-no-questions-sex. Have Mercy will bring you to you knees, and as a friend of mine once described, does in 3 minutes what The Cramps spent an entire decade trying to accomplish. Women’s Prison is a great song about a woman on death row for the murder of her husband who was sleeping around. It ends with Jack White singing Amazing Grace with acoustic backing and then turns into a guitar frenzy to finish off the song. Mrs. Leroy Brown is a honky tonk stomper with Loretta clearing out her cheatin’ hubby’s bank account to buy pink limousine and then instructs the driver to “drive that car right into the bar, bring it on back to the big old blonde who thinks she’s a movie star…? As you can guess, the blonde stands no chance.

This album works on so many levels. It showcases LL’s song-writing skills and the music has a down-in-the- dirt, skuzzy feel at times and a simple, country folk music at other times. Although she was 70 at the time of this recording, LL is in fine form vocally and she can either knock you on your backside likes she does on the harder songs or break your heart on the softer songs. You also have to give her credit that she even worked with Jack White and his buddies. While at times country, with mandolin, dobro, and harmonica, this album also rocks and it would be interesting you find out how well the traditional country folks accepted this album. Doesn’t matter, I loved it and easily play it a couple of times a month and for that Van Lear Rose is one my 30 most beloved albums.

What’s your opinion of Van Lear Rose?

Place on the Definitive 200 List: Not on the List!

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