Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Share on Reddit Share on Pinterest Share on Linkedin Share on Tumblr In an era when much country music seems to a product of the assembly line, the consistent, quality output of the genre’s aging royalty can remind listeners of the untapped potential of country music in the face of a sterile, commercialized system. While a few younger artists carry the torch, they tend to be relegated to the fringes of country music. Along with peers Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and the late Johnny Cash, among others, Loretta Lynn has shown herself as a vital voice more than a half century after her career began. That she continues to produce at high quality (if low volume), furthers the hope that country music can maintain its rootsy integrity in the face of formulaic pap. Rather than falling into self-parody or Branson-worthy commercialism, Lynn continues to do what she does best: convey emotional heartache with an unaffected twang and an inimitably pure and precise voice. On the appropriately titled Full Circle, her first album since 2004’s triumphant Van Lear Rose, she sounds as she always has: quietly confident and steadfast in the face of sadness. That she sounds as good in 2016 as she did in 1966 is a testament not only to her skills as a performer, but her ability to turn even overly familiar country standards into something wholly her own. Her stripped-down cover of Willie Nelson’s “Always on My Mind” places the focus squarely on Lynn’s weathered yet still powerful vocals. Hearing anyone other than Nelson tackle material like this is always a bit of a shock, but Lynn gamely tackles his idiosyncratic phrasing without compromising her own interpretation. And when she unleashes a stunning vibrato on the bridge, she truly makes the song her own. Closing with a subtle vocal flourish, she gives a master class in how to embellish a melody without resorting to today’s ubiquitous rollercoaster melisma. Similarly, her impassioned take on the oft-covered “In the Pines” shows that there’s still more to be gleaned from the song even after the hundreds of other versions that have come before. At 83, Lynn sounds all the more worldly, having seen and done nearly all there is to do. As the title implies, Full Circle finds Lynn returning to her roots and covering classics like the now-politically-incorrect “Fist City,” “Band of Gold” and, in a spoken word introduction, the first song she recalls having written, “Whispering Sea.” In this, shepherded by John Carter Cash and Patsy Lynn Reynolds, themselves the offspring of country royalty, Lynn revisits songs from her past that serve as a career summation. With each recorded over an eight-year period, much as Rick Rubin approached the elder Cash’s final years, these intimate performances find Lynn’s voice having remained strong and powerful as ever. Given her advanced age, it’s not surprising that Full Circle addresses mortality. There’s nothing along the lines of Johnny Cash’s late career hit and all around downer “Hurt,” but “Who’s Gonna Miss Me?” could well act as Lynn’s recorded dénouement and elegy for the end of an era of which she is one of the last voices standing. “Who’s gonna follow in my footsteps/ Who’s gonna miss me when I’m gone?” It’s a pointed question that sadly remains unanswered. Similarly, and far more explicitly, “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven” plays to the age-old notion that everyone wants to get there, “but nobody wants to die.” But Full Circle is far from maudlin. Lynn sounds at ease with the material, enjoying every moment spent doing what she does best. And when she’s joined by fellow octogenarian Nelson on “Lay Me Down,” they sound as vital and in command as they did fifty years ago. As their voices join in harmony near the song’s end, the sound of two iconic country music voices become one heartbreakingly gorgeous instrument. Where others might have offered this album it as a clear final statement, Lynn imbues each performance with energy and vitality, reminding us that country music has always defied age. From the hills of Kentucky to the streets of Bakersfield, artists of every age have proven themselves fine conduits for this earthy, blue-collar music. It is however troubling that we rely on the genre’s elders to carry the torch into the 21st century.. As these elder statesmen and women march ever onward toward the green, green grass of home, younger generations continue to fall by the wayside in favor of a more pop-influenced sound. Should the country music known and loved by Lynn and others eventually die out, we will at least be left with fine recordings like those on Full Circle. That she’s still making relevant music at 83 is a testament to her staying power. If any of today’s performers are still relevant fifty years on, it will be a miracle. That Lynn remains just that is a revelation. And if Full Circle is her final recording, it’s a brilliant, definitive statement that further cements her legacy as far more than just a coal miner’s daughter.