Loretta Lynn shows at last, but with too much help

dmenconi@newsobserver.comApril 8, 2012 

— Sort of like military service once being a prerequisite for U.S. presidents, a hardscrabble upbringing in poor rural circumstances used to be de rigueur for country-music stardom. Neither has been the case for quite some time, but one of the last divas standing from that country tradition is reigning country queen Loretta Lynn, who put on a rather peculiar show Saturday night at Durham Performing Arts Center.

Lynn will turn 77 next week, and health problems scotched two earlier DPAC dates since last October. The third scheduled date did come to pass, but it seemed like a show that was about her more than by her. Lynn was onstage for 70 minutes, about a third of which she spent watching relatives and understudies perform. It seemed like something you’d see at a state fair or a theater in Branson, Mo.

After the lights went down, Lynn’s daughter Patsy came out to hawk her mom’s box set and cookbook. Then Lynn’s eight-piece backup band, Bart Hanson and the Coal Miners, came out to do two songs, followed by another two songs sung by Patsy, followed by a video tribute showing highlights from Lynn’s 50-year career.

Finally, Lynn herself swept out in a blue sparkly dress big enough to hide chickens under. She went right into “They Don’t Make ’em Like My Daddy,” a 1974 country hit long on the autobiographical details Lynn is famous for.

By now, everybody knows her story. Born a coal miner’s daughter in the Kentucky burg of Butcher Holler; married at 13 in tumultuous circumstances; pulled herself up by her bootstraps while fighting with (and for) her man during most of their five-decade marriage. If all that sounds like a country song, it’s many country songs, which Lynn has been singing over and over since the 1960s.

Lynn covered a decent quantity of them Saturday night, including “You’re Looking at Country,” “Fist City” and “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man).” Her voice is still in pretty fair shape and the crowd was adoring, giving “You Ain’t Woman Enough” a standing ovation.

“Bless your hearts,” Lynn said, beaming.

But it’s possible that she wasn’t feeling well, because the closing stretch wasn’t so good. First her grandson came out for a cameo, overstaying his welcome with an extended version of Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll.”

Even worse was his dad’s two-song bit, including an interminable version of Steve Miller’s “The Joker” as Lynn looked on and dabbed at her face with a handkerchief. If that sounds like a what’s-wrong-with-this-picturemoment, well, it was.

Things were hit-or-miss after that, with a nice gospel medley on the upside; and on the downside, the backup singers killing time with a limp country-rock version of “Man of Constant Sorrow.”

But she’s got a mighty fine ace in the hole for closing time, the statement of purpose “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” during which we truly were looking at country.

Bless her heart.

Menconi: 919-829-4759 or blogs.newsobserver.com/beat

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