It's been an interminable twelve years since we last heard from Loretta Lynn. Her most recent release, 2004's Van Lear Rose, was a collaboration with alternative rocker Jack White that was beloved by music critics at large but panned by many country purists for its heavy "garage punk" production. Personally, I'm firmly in the "love it" camp, but I can understand how such an adventurous, genre-bending album wasn't everyone's cup of tea. Thankfully, no such caveats are necessary for 2016's Full Circle, on which Lynn returns to her Kentucky roots and delivers a fine album that stands up to the great records she put out throughout the '60s and '70s. And if you're wondering how Lynn's voice is holding up at age eighty-three, you needn't worry - it's barely aged a day.
While Full Circle isn't a concept album in the strict sense that it contains a continuing story, there's undoubtedly a thematic undercurrent throughout the album of Lynn looking back at her life and contemplating her mortality. The album begins with Lynn reprising "Whispering Sea", the first song she ever wrote when she signed her record deal, and ends with "Lay Me Down", a stunning duet with Willie Nelson that has the two legends pondering the inevitable day on which they have to leave this world. In-between, Lynn revisits traditional folk tunes she grew up on, covers a few songs she loves that other artists had hits with, and even rerecords a few of her old hits just for the heck of it. The entire album feels like a encapsulation of Lynn's entire life journey and of everything coming full circle, as the title suggests. This is not to suggest the album is an entirely somber affair as there are plenty of lighthearted moments, but it's clear that Lynn probably expects this to be one of her last albums (if not the last).