Loretta Lynn FULL CIRCLE

Loretta Lynn has titled her first album in a dozen years “Full Circle” partly because she opens the 14-song collection with “Whispering Sea,” the first song she ever wrote, back in the late 1950s.

But “Full Circle” also extends a long line of vibrant, wholly distinctive albums based on Lynn’s unique story, her recognizable rural voice and her highly personal way of writing about her feelings about the world she inhabits.

Produced by Patsy Lynn Russell (her daughter) and John Carter Cash (son of Johnny and June Carter Cash), the album relies on a melodic bed of acoustic instruments with gentle touches of steel guitar, drums and the occasional piano.

The old-school sound focuses attention on Lynn, who, at 83, sounds amazingly good. Not only does she retain nearly all of her range and vocal strength, but her ability also to breathe feeling into what she’s saying remains one of her greatest attributes.

She offers a few originals, including “Everything It Takes,” co-written with singer-songwriter Todd Snider with harmonies by Elvis Costello. There’s also a duet with Willie Nelson on “Lay Me Down,” one of many gospel numbers.

But the best songs are among the most unexpected, such as her poignant take on T. Graham Brown’s prayerful “Wine Into Water” and a rousing version of the folk classic “Black Jack David.”

— Michael McCall


There is a late ’60s, early ’70s vibe on M. Ward’s “More Rain,” a mellow brightness that’s immediate yet distant.

The minute of rain to start the record is too obvious. Ward may feel perpetually oversaturated in Portland, Oregon, as he initially meant to build up the songs with layers of multi-tracked vocals.

Although the arrangements expanded along with the number of guests — Peter Buck, Neko Case, k.d. lang and Joey Spampinato among them — tunes like “I’m Listening” and “Little Baby” retained their doo-wop features.

“Time Won’t Wait” has a sung, staccato rhythm riff, Case on background vocals and a smidge of T. Rex glam, while the strings on “Slow Driving Man” combine John Lennon and Isaac Hayes.

A cover of the Beach Boys’ “You’re So Good to Me” begins lo-fi, stays guitar-dominated, and Ward’s backing vocals hit the mark better than his lead. The Moog siren on “Girl from Conejo Valley,” meanwhile, makes a lament for a runaround girlfriend suitable for the soundtrack of a Steve McQueen prison escape.

“I’m Going Higher” is a fitting closer, its Ringo-like optimism gracefully supported by The Secret Sisters’ vocal foundation.

Recorded over four years in a handful of studios from Oregon to Massachusetts, Ward gives “More Rain” a weathered, AM radio-like sonic character that avoids being merely a stylistic exercise.

— Pablo Gorondi