Music Review: Loretta Lynn at the 9:30 Club

Country legend Loretta Lynn, 74, forgot lyrics but got through the gig with family members singing and trading banter.
Country legend Loretta Lynn, 74, forgot lyrics but got through the gig with family members singing and trading banter. (By Richard A. Lipski -- The Washington Post)
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By Chris Klimek
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, December 8, 2008

It's awkward, being caught in the crossfire of another family's squabble.

"Get back on your X!" scolded Loretta Lynn, the coal miner's daughter, at Ernest Ray, her 50-something child. Ernie is a guitarist and the "designated drinker" in the large band that gingerly shepherded the 74-year-old Country Music Hall of Famer through a weird-but-winning hit parade Saturday night at the 9:30 club.

The rest of the band was protective of the star in the spangly pink gown -- blazing professionally through more than two dozen tunes in 75 minutes, covering for her when she forgot the words to "Let Your Love Flow," her first number. But ne'er-do-well Ernie sassed her all over the place, asking the crowd for beers and threatening to move back into Mama's place with "all my five wives" if she fires him.

All part of the show, surely. Almost definitely. Probably.

"Pray for me, people," Lynn told us.

"I'm a Honky Tonk Girl" was the unassuming first of her several careers' worth of '60s and '70s hits, but she went on to give voice to feminist themes previously unheard and unheard of in country music. She was a Kennedy Center Honors recipient in 2003, and the next year she and Jack White made the deservedly Grammy-winning "Van Lear Rose" together, which is probably why so many (relative) young 'uns were there.

The audience had the right mix of enthusiasm and reverence, and yet when Lynn took the stage after two songs from Ernie and a pair from her twin daughters, Peggy and Patsy, there was reason to worry. She dropped lines. She gasped. Song three, "When the Tingle Becomes a Chill," contains the lyric "The body performs but the soul has no will." Onstage, it was exactly the opposite.

"I'm dry tonight; I don't know why," Lynn marveled. That she didn't seem worried about it in the least made everyone feel better. The band kicked into "You Ain't Woman Enough," the crowd cheered, and Lynn started to sing "You're Looking at Country," which she had sung 10 minutes earlier.

Somehow, none of the flubs mattered much. There were flashes of the supple vocal power that has yet to desert her; more and more of them as the show went on. That little wave of her left hand as she sang "Kentucky Girl" melted away the decades to show us the woman in her prime, so feminine and yet so forceful.

The duets, particularly, found her in a state of grace -- some of them, anyway.

One of her male backup singers stepped up to join her on "Portland, Oregon," recorded with White. With his wild perm ("If I wasn't married, I'd probably be dating him," said Ernie), this cat is more like Jack Black, but he sounded great. Bart Hansen, probably the youngest guy onstage, sang a spirited "Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man" with her, and they shared a chaste kiss. Then it was time for "Feelins'," and Ernie. Charlie Archer's steel guitar rang out in tones majestic and mysterious and not creepy, unlike the mother-and-son vocals on this suggestive romantic ballad. Then Lynn sat while Ernie's daughter Tayla came on to belt out her grandma's divorcee blues, "Rated X."

There were to be more botched cues and flat notes, but it was going to be fine. It was going to be family. When Lynn got flummoxed during "One's on the Way," she shrugged, "Take it away, Ernie!" Her next song? "The Pill." To that one, she remembered all the words. Coincidence, surely. Almost definitely. Probably.

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