ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Our music critic Robert Christgau is no fan of tribute albums, but a new effort has, for the moment, won him over. It's a record devoted to country matriarch Loretta Lynn
ROBERT CHRISTGAU: Tribute compilations rarely do anybody justice. Recorded by disparate artists under disparate circumstances, they're inconsistent by definition. But every now and then one jells like "Coal Miner's Daughter: A Tribute to Loretta Lynn." Here's a portion of the title track, as sung by Miranda Lambert, then Sheryl Crow, and finally Loretta Lynn herself.
(Soundbite of song, "Coal Miner's Daughter"
Ms. MIRANDA LAMBERT, Ms. SHERYL CROW and Ms. LORETTA LYNN (Singers): (Singing) In the summertime, we didn't have shoes to wear. In the wintertime, we all get a brand new pair from a mail-order catalog, money made from selling this hog. Daddy always managed to get the money somewhere. Yeah, I'm proud to be a coal miner's daughter...
CHRISTGAU: The occasion of this 12-track collection is the 50th anniversary of Lynn's first record and first hit, "I'm a Honky Tonk Girl." In 1960, Lynn's sound was pretty hayseed by the standards of the time, even those of country radio.
(Soundbite of song, "Honky Tonk Girl")
Ms. LYNN: (Singing) Ever since you left me, I've done nothing but wrong. Many nights I've laid awake and cried.
CHRISTGAU: On the tribute record, however, Lee Ann Womack takes the same milestone song just a little harder and more country. The ornamentation is more pronounced, the drawl a touch thicker.
(Soundbite of song, "Honky Tonk Girl")
Ms. LEE ANN WOMACK (Singer): (Singing) We once were happy, my heart was in a whirl, but now I'm a honky tonk girl.
CHRISTGAU: Almost all the women here go for such slight exaggerations, which reminds us of what Loretta Lynn achieved for so many of the female country singers whose career paths followed hers - the freedom to make hay off the speech and sounds they grew up with, stylizing them and reveling in them.
On my favorite example, Oklahoma-born American Idol winner Carrie Underwood covers Lynn's "You're Looking at Country."
(Soundbite of song, "You're Looking At Country")
Ms. CARRIE UNDERWOOD (Singer): (Singing) You don't need no city when you look at me 'cuz the country's all that I am. I love runnin' bare-footed through the old cornfields, and I love that country ham. Well, you say I'm made just to fit your plans, but does a barnyard shovel fit your hands? If your eyes are on me, you're lookin' at country.
CHRISTGAU: Even if Underwood is pushing a little, she's also having a ball. So are a whole bunch of female singers who want the world to know how much they owe the honky tonk girl. Gretchen Wilson, Allison Moorer, Reba McEntire, Martina McBride. Duet partners Alan Jackson and Steve Earle let loose, too.
By comparison, White Stripe Jack White sounds slightly out of place, even though was he the one who reignited Lynn's late career by arranging and producing her "Van Lear Rose" in 2004.
(Soundbite of song, "Van Lear Rose")
Ms. LYNN: (Singing) (Unintelligible) But I think it's wrong to judge every picture if (unintelligible) camera makes a mistake.
CHRISTGAU: "Coal Miner's Daughter" is for country's ladies, including hard-rocking Tennessee pop idol Hayley Williams of Paramore, who fits right in just singing and strumming an acoustic guitar.
(Soundbite of music)
Ms. HAYLEY WILLIAMS (Singer): (Singing) You come to tell me something you say I ought to know...
SIEGEL: That's critic Robert Christgau. The album is called "Coal Miner's Daughter: A Tribute to Loretta Lynn."
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