Loretta Lynn's new record honors a lifetime of writing women into the country music canon
Still Woman Enough is the country icon's 50th studio release
Andrea Warner is an author, a writer with CBC Music and a regular member of the Day 6 music panel.
In 2016, I interviewed country music icon Loretta Lynn for the first time. She told me: "When I was recording, I recorded for us girls. I didn't record for men. I fought for the women and I recorded for the women."
My Grandma is the one who introduced me to Loretta Lynn and her music has become extra special to us since I interviewed her.
Lynn was Grandma's first big concert. She won tickets and it was a huge deal because she could never have afforded to go on her own dime — and because she never really won anything before — but I think it was also because of how deeply Gram identified with Lynn as a songwriter. She was seeing parts of herself in popular music for the first time thanks to Lynn's songs.
Now, more than six decades into her career, Loretta Lynn is still doing the work.
Her new album, Still Woman Enough, is her 50th studio release. The record doesn't just honour Lynn's legacy, but rather enriches it with new songs, new recordings, and collaborations with some of the biggest stars in country music to follow in Lynn's steps.
Still Woman Enough, the title track, is a call back to Lynn's 1966 classic song, You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man), but it's also a rousing 2021 feminist anthem co-written by Lynn and her daughter, Patsy Lynn Russell, who also co-produced the record. The song also features Reba McEntire and Carrie Underwood, who, like Lynn, have found massive success in the industry and yet still struggle for radio play.
Bringing together three generations of country superstars is a great idea in theory, if a bit messy in execution. But as they belt out the chorus together, there's this sense of joyful catharsis and suddenly it feels like we're all at a karaoke bar or a concert, participating in the kind of statement singalong that becomes a shorthand between so many women and girls.
Like the Chicks' Goodbye Earl or Leslie Gore's You Don't Own Me or Aretha Franklin's Respect, Still Woman Enough is a statement and a declaration, two staples of Loretta Lynn's songwriting from the very beginning.
In March 1960, Loretta Lynn wrote herself into country music history with her very first single, I'm a Honky Tonk Girl. Tenacity was her strong suit, as was the partnership she had with her husband Oliver Lynn, known as Doolittle.
Doolittle mailed out 3,500 copies of her song to radio stations all over the United States and they didn't hear back from anyone. So the pair got in their car and drove to every radio station they could for three months. The single eventually became a hit.
Lynn's debut carried on the conversation of Kitty Wells' 1952 classic, It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels. Wells' song was rueful and almost resigned, while Lynn couched her tears-in-my-beer lament inside a playful two step.
What Wells made universal in her lyrics — "It's a shame that all the blame is on us women/It's not true that only you men feel the same," she sang, "From the start most every heart that's ever broken/Was because there always was a man to blame" — Lynn made personal: "So turn that jukebox way up high/And fill my glass up while cry/I've lost everything in this world/And now I'm a honky tonk girl."
As a songwriter, Honky Tonk Girl is one fractal on the spectrum of ways in which Lynn has feminized the country music canon herself, and Still Woman Enough reaffirms these tremendous achievements, including a blistering new version of her breakup hit, I Wanna Be Free and a moving spoken word recitation of her most-beloved classic, Coal Miner's Daughter.
But it's also about the songs Lynn has chosen to cover throughout her career.
Among those featured on Still Woman Enough's tracklist is the brilliant One's On the Way by Shel Silverstein. A huge hit for Lynn in 1971, this new recording features contemporary country music great Margo Price and the two have a blast as they inject some lived experience into this tongue-in-cheek account of women, class differences, motherhood and pregnancy.
WATCH | Loretta Lynn's recitation of Coal Miner's Daughter
Still recording for 'us girls'
This is what it looks and sounds like for Loretta Lynn to record for "us girls." And it's how numerous generations of women have found their experiences reflected back to them in her songs, including me and my Grandma.
After I interviewed Lynn in 2016, the record label sent me a signed copy of her album because they loved hearing about Grandma's story. I took her to see Lynn in concert later that year, more than 50 years after her first experience, and she sang along to every song.
So did the rest of the audience, mostly multiple generations of mothers and daughters, sisters and aunts, grandmothers and granddaughters, witnesses to each other's best and worst moments thanks to the musician's music.
Grandma is 87 now, and she broke her hip almost two months ago. She's been living with us for the last six weeks as she recovers. We listened to Still Woman Enough for the first time together, which seemed fitting, and we sang along to the songs we knew and learned the words to the ones we didn't.
Each time we got to the album's final track, You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man), which has been re-recorded as a fiery duet with country legend Tanya Tucker, we pressed "play" again.
Loretta Lynn is 88 years old, and she's still recording for "us girls," and Grandma and I couldn't be more grateful for that.