Sharp edges and an irresistible groove
MUSIC | Remembering Loretta Lynn and Ramsey Lewis
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When Loretta Lynn died on Oct. 4, she was understandably lionized as one of the great ladies of country music.
Possessed of a pure, Kentucky-bred voice, Lynn released the first of her 30 Top 10 solo albums at age 31 in 1963 and the last in 2021 at 88. If you add her albums with Conway Twitty, her album with Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette, and her hits collections, her Top 10 count swells to 42. She also had a dozen Top 10 singles with Twitty and 39 on her own.
Lynn’s life had long been the stuff of legend, beginning in 1976 with her as-told-to autobiography Coal Miner’s Daughter and its subsequent transformation into a blockbuster film.
But what the legend tends to downplay is that in 1972, after years of believing the tenets of the Church of Christ, she was baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, having decided that if she was going to weather the pressures of fame she’d better get “stronger in [her] religion.” Ironically, she recorded the first three of her four gospel albums before that decision.
On Hymns (1965), Who Says God Is Dead! (1968), and God Bless America Again (1972), neither Lynn nor her producer Owen Bradley took many chances, preferring instead material tailored to country’s mainly conservative and sentimental churchgoing base.
But the chances they did take—most notably “Everybody Wants To Go to Heaven” (next line: “but nobody wants to die”) and “Who Says God Is Dead!”—evinced the sharp edges and independent mindedness that characterized Lynn at her best.
Preceding Lynn into eternity by three weeks was the jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis. He was 87.
The headlines of his obituaries alluded to the arrangement of the Dobie Gray hit “The ‘In’ Crowd” that Lewis, bassist Eldee Young, and drummer Redd Holt worked out in 1965 and that was all of 2 days old when they debuted it at a Washington, D.C., nightclub. The performance’s rollicking infectiousness and the patrons’ rhythmic clapping made it a smash. The In Crowd LP peaked at No. 2.
Forty years later, Lewis made a live album of a very different kind.
Recorded at the J.W. James Memorial A.M.E. Church in Maywood, Ill., With One Voice found Lewis tickling the ivories of a Steinway concert grand and at times seemed almost too classy for gospel. Ultimately, its sublimated variety had a lot to do with why it wasn’t. There was also a clear connection to his mid-’60s’ peak: “Sunday Strut,” a reminder that when Lewis found his groove no audience could resist clapping along.
—WORLD has corrected this review to reflect that Loretta Lynn was 31 in 1963 when she released her first Top 10 solo album.
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