Full Circle is no accidental title for this, Loretta Lynn’s first album after a 12-year break. Released as she approaches her 83rd birthday, Full Circle not only deliberately returns the country legend to her Kentucky roots, it’s constructed as a summation of her life. It opens with the first song she ever wrote – a lovelorn waltz called “Whispering Sea” – and runs through old folk tunes she sang as a child, revisits hits she had in her prime, and adds new tunes to her repertoire, all the while acknowledging that she’s closer to the end of her life than the beginning. It’s a weighty concept directed by co-producers John Carter Cash and Lynn’s daughter Patsy Lynn Reynolds, two scions of country royalty keenly aware of the nuances of legacy and tradition. Cash and Reynolds began recording Loretta back in 2007, stockpiling hundreds of songs in the ensuing eight years. Full Circle is culled from those sessions, and while there certainly must be many equally compelling tunes lying in the vaults, the album benefits from its canny construction, touching upon so many aspects of Loretta Lynn’s multi-faceted art without lingering on any single part.
One of the record’s attributes is its clean, simple sound. Spare but never skeletal, the record feels intimate but never haunted; it feels as if she is playing songs for old friends in her living room, relying on beloved tunes and well-told stories. If there’s possibly a slight contrivance in the reliance on songs about death – good as they are, “Who’s Gonna Miss Me?” and “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven” put perhaps too fine a point upon her eventual passing – these clear-eyed ruminations never feel ghoulish due to that straight-ahead sound. As produced by her daughter and family friend, Loretta Lynn is in good, trusting hands who wish to present her at her best and, more or less, that’s precisely what Full Circle offers.