Blues begat country and country, via Elvis, begat rock n’ roll, or so conventional wisdom dictates. So it’s no surprise that the holy circle is being maintained by rock’s most vocal, if somewhat unlikely, blues apostle, Jack White. Via the entire White Stripes catalogue, he’s held together the link between the searing soul-plumbing depths of Son House and the psycho-riff rock employed by your Black Sabbaths or Led Zeppelins as naturally as Jimmy Page did back in the day. And now, like Rick Rubin proved himself to be with Johnny Cash, White is, in the face of his growing celebrity, showing himself as someone who “gets it” by producing—or more accurately, shepherding—the creation of the blues-country-rock tour de force that is Loretta Lynn’s Van Lear Rose. That’s right, it’s Lynn’s album, so we’ll try to keep the Jack White fawning to a minimum. After all, Lynn is one of the most distinctive female vocalists of the last century, and a true groundbreaking artist in her own right, writing her own material in an era when it was practically unheard of for female performers. And the wonderful news to report about Van Lear Rose is that Lynn’s voice remains the playful coo that it always was, seemingly undimmed by age, unsullied by experience. The songs are equally timeless—the title track, “Portland Oregon,” “God Makes No Mistake,” and at least two other tracks deserve instant classic status, awash in pedal steel, devoid of ornamentation, but filled to the brim with sure and simple emotion. The sad fact is that without the divine intervention of a current It Boy, these instant classics probably would’ve been ignored by any record label, let alone a mainstream powerhouse like Interscope. Thus, Messrs. Rubin and White have, in letting the circle be unbroken and bringing legendary voices back where they belong, also brought rock n’ roll so much closer to its home, from where it should never stray but so often does. They say home is where the heart is, and Van Lear Rose hoots, hollers, and holds us closer to the heart of rock than most of the 20-somethings jumping around on your so-called Music Television. And while country radio probably won’t “get it,” and rock radio will most likely treat it as a trite novelty, the important thing to remember is that somehow, in the midst of the vacuous sucking sound that is modern music, soul music can still be heard, sung by the sweetest voices God gave breath to.
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