Loretta Lynn Talks 'Full Circle,' and Her First-Ever Duet with Willie Nelson

Loretta Lynn Talks 'Full Circle,' and Her First-Ever Duet with Willie Nelson
Photo: David McClister
It's hard to top Loretta Lynn's last album: 2004's Jack White-produced Van Lear Rose, a double Grammy Award-winning inter-generational album of Lynn originals that was universally lauded and country-rocked hard. "Jack did good, didn't he?" Loretta Lynn tells Exclaim! from Hurricane Mills, TN.
Lynn's new album, Full Circle (out March 4 on Legacy) a return to more traditional, stripped-down roots, doesn't try to compete. Produced by Lynn's daughter, Patsy Lynn Russell, and Johnny Cash's son, John Carter Cash, and recorded at the Cash Cabin Studio in Hendersonville, TN, it's ostensibly a journey through Lynn's musical story. It encompasses Appalachian folk (including songs popularized by the Carter Family), Lynn's earliest work, some new songs, and a couple of her hits.
The thing is, Lynn, who at 83 continues to write and record incessantly ("I recorded two days, right before last, 11 songs. I just keep recordin'," she says), didn't pick which songs made the cut.
"I let Sony pick the songs they wanted to put on the album, and Patsy, my daughter, and John Carter Cash," she says. "And that's what they wanted. But everybody loves it." She adds, "they let me do what I want to, just about, but I always bring them in on everything. I think everything works better when you do work with people.
"We did this record very different," says Lynn, who plays guitar as well as sings on the album, though she just sings live. "On some [songs] it's just me and guitar. I've played it all the time on the road until not too long ago. I just kind of laid my guitar down, cause a guitar's heavy, and it'll wear you out, so I just let the musicians play."
The first song on Full Circle, "Whispering Sea," is also the first song Lynn ever wrote, inspired, as she says in its intro, by fishing. It also includes an updated "Fist City" (one of Lynn's many hits, and one of her greatest), but she's most excited about a new song in the same vein: "Everything It Takes," a duet with Elvis Costello. "She's got everything it takes and she'll take everything you got," she sings on the phone. "That's the kind of stuff I like."
A few of the songs Lynn's team selected for Full Circle address mortality and dying — including standout "Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven" (originally released on Lynn's 1965 album, Hymns), a new song, "Who's Gonna Miss Me?" and "Lay Me Down," a duet with Willie Nelson.
Yet death is not something that Lynn, who's too busy writing, touring, and appearing on TV shows, is preoccupied with these days.
"Not at all," she says. "I ain't going nowhere (she laughs) I'm just going to stick around here and raise hell!"
Despite that, the duet with Nelson, a contemporary of Lynn's who hit Nashville at about the same time and shares a connection with Patsy Cline (he wrote some of Cline's songs and Lynn later sang them), is beautiful.
"We never sung before together in our lives and we did it on the first take," Lynn says. "Willie looked at me and said, 'I guess you know we're going to have to go around the world with this and tour?' and I said, 'Willie, I ain't goin'!'"
"Willie's a great writer and a great artist: you can't miss who he is when he starts singing," Lynn says of Nelson's distinctiveness. "That's what makes an artist."

Have a listen to "Who's Gonna Miss Me?" below.