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Critics' Choice
LORETTA LYNN'S SONGWRITING TAKES CENTER STAGE IN PBS DOC
3/3/16

By Phil Gallo

The strength of Loretta Lynn: Still a Mountain Girl, the documentary airing on PBSAmerican Masters beginning 3/4, is found in director Vikram Jiyanti’s willingness to stretch far beyond the details that played out so well in the 1980 landmark biopic Coal Miner’s Daughter. Still a Mountain Girl places an emphasis on Loretta Lynn’s groundbreaking songwriting style, the hardships of touring from the 1950s through the ‘70s and the pains and realities of sustaining her marriage to Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn. This film reaffirms Lynn’s status as the Queen of Country Music through humble, unassuming storytelling.

Jack White, Garth Brooks, Sheryl Crow and Trisha Yearwood are among the stars who celebrate Lynn’s songwriting, the direct nature of her lyrics that hit subjects country music had never touched from a woman’s perspective. One historian, quoting the great producer Owen Bradley, says its fair to call her the female Hank Williams.

Others deconstruct Lynn’s best songs, sometimes praising the unique singing and elsewhere the lyrics or construction of verses and choruses; White declares that a trained songwriter would never do what Lynn does with double choruses, an element gives her songs a trademark spark. All agree, country songwriting would not be where it is today without Lynn’s work, and subjects suggest some of the barriers she broke are rarely revisited.

 “It’s sad we don’t write abut relationships that way (anymore),” Crow laments. “Drinking songs, cheating songs. … She was a spitfire.”

The two-hour documentary is packed with Lynn’s best-known material and stories behind such songs as “Don’t Come Home A’Drinkin’ With Lovin’ on Your Mind,”  “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man,” “You Ain’t Woman Enough,” “Your Squaw is on the Warpath” and “The Pill,” all of which connect Lynn’s life with her art.  As the 83-year-old Lynn puts it: “If you write about what’s happening, it don’t hurt as bad.”

Vintage footage is spectacular throughout: An early TV appearance of Lynn singing “Honky Tonk Girl”; a video collage of “You’re Lookin’ at Country” through the decades; and duets with Conway Twitty complement more recent performances including one in which she sang in Ernest Tubb’s Record Shop, the Nashville venue where she got her break on radio. Her children, most of them performers as well, provide insights into their family life and the efforts by Lynn and her husband to connect with fans through the creation of the Loretta Lynn Dude Ranch.

Sony Legacy is releasing the DVD Friday 3/4 in conjunction with Lynn’s first new album in 10 years, Full Circle, a collection of songs she sang as a child (“In the Pines,” “I Will Never Marry”) in addition to new compositions and a couple new versions of old hits (“Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven,” “Fist City”). Willie Nelson and Elvis Costello are among the guests on the disc.