"Why, I've heard people say God cannot be alive / And all the things that people say has to be a lie / When they're down and out and they need a hand / And their very soul's at stake / If they call on Him and just believe / God makes no mistakes"
—from "God Makes No Mistakes"
"The greatest female singer–songwriter of the twentieth century." That's what White Stripes singer Jack White called country music legend Loretta Lynn in a GQ interview. White, who befriended Lynn a few years ago, helped produce her latest album, Van Lear Rose, one of the most critically lauded projects of 2004.
In many ways, this album represents a rebirth of sorts of Lynn. After an auspicious country career throughout the '60s and '70s, she reached her peak when her autobiography, Coal Miner's Daughter, was adapted for the big screen. The film was a critical and commercial smash, but Lynn's musical career started waning soon after that as younger, more polished talent started climbing the country music charts.
Lynn never really left the scene, but Van Lear Rose has her back in the limelight again. Some liken the album's unaffected grit to the hipster makeover Johnny Cash enjoyed at the hands of super–producer Rick Rubin. Here's an artist who for a long time settled for the conventionality and gloss of the Nashville country scene, but who's now injecting new blood into her career thanks to White – a figure far removed from the glitz and glamour associated with Grand Ole Opry hobnobbing. But Lynn's renaissance differs from that of the Man in Black in that she's not singing other people's songs. For the first time in her 40–year–plus career, she's written an entire album, and this ownership bleeds through every note she intones.
Songs of loss, songs of grief, but also songs of hope and renewal, Rose is a heavenly marriage of honky–tonk spontaneity and the feisty bravado that only freewheeling rock 'n' roll can offer. Recorded on 8–track analog gear, the album's a vivid trip down Lynn's memory lane, as if this was the actual soundtrack to the '80s film that put her in the spotlight. She's also exploring themes of faith and redemption. She often presents truth in painful contexts, like when she bookends the tragic "Women's Prison" with the hymn "Amazing Grace," implying that death is no match for God's gift of unmerited favor.
Equal parts a plaintive country psalm and a modern paraphrase of Isaiah 55, "Trouble on the Line" is a relatable prayer expressing disconnection from our Savior: "All I get is static when we're talkin'/You say my line is out of order all the time/We have nothing' left in common/Your thoughts are not like mine/Oh Lord, I'm sorry, but there's trouble on the line …/I can't understand a word You're sayin'/We've got a bad connection on our minds/Communication's one thing we never seem to find/Oh Lord, I'm sorry, but there's trouble on the line."
Sounding like a long–lost b–side from the O Brother sessions, "High on a Mountain Top" is joyous autobiographical account of down–home country life: "We live, we love, we laugh a lot," chant Lynn and her backup singers, then adding, "Where I come from the mountain flowers grow wild/The blue grass sways like it's goin' out of style/God–fearin' people simple and real/'Cause up on the ridge folks, that's the deal."
Lynn even makes a case for Christian apologetics and the sovereignty of God in "God Makes No Mistakes" (excerpted above), declaring with authority that is not up to us to question his will: "Why, I've heard people say/Why is my child blind?/Why is that ol' drunk still livin' when a daddy like mine is dyin'?/Our blessed Father who gives us life has the power to take it away / There's no reason for what He does/God makes no mistakes." The song goes on to call doubters to "call on Him and just believe."
The studio photos interspersed through the liner notes of Van Lear Rose show a picture of Jesus sitting right alongside an old Roy Acuff record. That Lynn decided to include a depiction of Christ next to the work of a legendary country singer could be a fitting testament to how religion is deeply interwoven into her craft. Though not nearly as message–oriented as her previous gospel relics Who Said God is Dead! and Hymns, Van Lear Rose still captures Loretta Lynn's spiritual essence with more humanity and realism than those albums did in their '60s prime. And it's a fantastic album to boot.
Unless specified clearly, we are not implying whether this artist is or is not a Christian. The views expressed are simply the author's. For a more complete description of our Glimpses of God articles, click here.