the inside track

Three Generations of Country Queens Unite on Loretta Lynn’s ‘Still Woman Enough’

Photo-Illustration: by Vulture; Photos by Getty Images

Nearly 55 years ago, Loretta Lynn’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough” shouldn’t have been a hit. Just six women had ever earned a solo country No. 1 by 1966 — none of them for songs they wrote, and mostly for sentimental fare. Lynn’s self-penned song addressed to the other woman eyeing her man never reached No. 1 but still became her biggest commercial success yet, peaking at No. 2. Months later, in February 1967, she got her first country No. 1 for an even edgier song, “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind),” the first country No. 1 written by the same woman who performed it. (In fact, Lynn co-wrote it with her sister, Peggy Sue Wright.)

Lynn’s 50th studio album, Still Woman Enough, revisits some of the biggest and most notable songs of the 88-year-old’s career, which to date now includes 24 No. 1’s and counting. It’s a reminder of how Lynn has spent her career pushing doors open for women in country music, leaving them open for the women following her and taking them with her. Nowhere is that reminder clearer than the album’s opener and only new composition, the title track.

It’s a confident, rollicking burst of energy that features two women from two different generations of country who followed in Lynn’s footsteps, Reba McEntire and Carrie Underwood. Her influence on both is clear, even down to their respective feminist calling cards: McEntire’s “Fancy” is an empowering song about a prostitute, while Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” is a post-breakup revenge fantasy. Country often wants women to prove themselves, but contrary to what the song’s title could suggest, Lynn has nothing to prove nor is she looking for approval. “Still Woman Enough” is all declarative, a laugh in the face of anyone who might have doubted Lynn — or McEntire, or Underwood, or any other woman in country. “Been knocked down but never out of the fight,” the trio sing in the chorus.

And what would Lynn have left to prove, anyway? Lynn’s voice has aged impeccably, and as it has grown heftier and more commanding in recent years, she has released some of the best music of her career. But she is not just singing for singing’s sake after over 60 years (with one album still left in her deal with Legacy Recordings) — she’s carrying her weight and then some alongside two of country’s biggest singers. McEntire and Underwood defer to Lynn, but it’s their harmonies that soar the highest; their enthusiasm bursts out of the recording booth. Topping it off, Lynn’s winking sense of humor is still sharp. “And let me tell you, when it comes to love, I’m still woman enough,” goes the chorus, calling back to her 1966 hit. (A new version of that song, now a duet with outlaw-country icon Tanya Tucker, bookends the album.)

In 2010, McEntire and Underwood both paid tribute to the 50th anniversary of Lynn’s career, contributing covers to a compilation alongside everyone from Faith Hill and Martina McBride to Paramore and the White Stripes. Still Woman Enough is Lynn’s fourth album since, and most remarkably, the title track still finds her looking forward. “It ain’t your age, it’s your state of mind,” Lynn, McEntire, and Underwood declare on the song’s bridge. This time, the song is less a tribute to Lynn than one positioning herself as a peer to McEntire and Underwood — along with Tucker, fellow duet partner Margo Price, and the dozens of other musicians who have counted Lynn as an influence. Hearing her anchor the voices of her peers and successors throughout the project, while also consistently rising above them, is more of a treat than any tribute could be.

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Three Generations of Country Queens Unite on ‘Woman Enough’