Loretta Lynn came to the Riviera Theatre on Thursday night, and it was a bit of a flashback with a country music legend. She was a deft social commentator whose songs like “The Pill” and “Dear Uncle Sam” broke new ground in a genre where such topics as sexual politics and the pain of families broken up by foreign wars are not the norm.
While she stood up for – and to – her “man,” Lynn’s phrasing about the everyday issues facing her audiences was always direct and to the point whether it was a case of establishing ownership in “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)” and “Fist City,” talking about marriage troubles in “When the Tingle Becomes a Chill” and “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind),” or unashamedly ballyhooing her roots with “You’re Looking at Country” and “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”
All of these songs were performed at the concert along with a fair sampling of other hits in her catalog. Lynn covered Patsy Cline’s “She’s Got You” and Johnny Mullins’ “Blue Kentucky Girl” (a big hit for Loretta in 1965), but the bulk of the material heard came from her own pen and heart.
It’s a heart that has been going through some trying times of late, in part due to the frailty of her 81-year-old body but also to more personal troubles. She postponed part of her recent tour because of exhaustion; knee surgeries have hindered her ability to walk about the stage like she used to; her glaucoma is being treated with shots; and earlier this year Lynn broke a few ribs. To top it all off, her oldest daughter died in July.
These were all things that her devoted fan base was aware of, facts that Lynn referred to by quipping to the audience that “I bet you all came out to see if I was alive.” While she began her concert by walking on stage to a standing ovation and delivering the first songs in the set, it wasn’t too long before Lynn sat down on a chair strategically place behind her by one of the band members.
It was from this position that she sang, bantered with the musicians and her audience and acknowledged her frailties. When, toward the end of the concert, Lynn regained her feet, it was to break into a gospel medley of “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven” and “Who Says God Is Dead?” before closing out the evening with “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”
Throughout the concert, Lynn’s voice was fairly strong, carrying all the conviction of her past with relatively little to indicate fading vocal skills. Her band, aided by, in some cases, 30 years worth of familiarity with the boss and her repertoire, was more than competent, shining when their employer allowed them space to step out on their own. Lynn’s twin daughters Peggy and Patsy sang backup in addition to starting the evening off with a couple of tunes from their debut album.
Before the band came on the stage, Tom McGinley did a warm-up set on the theater’s Mighty Wurlitzer organ that included chestnuts like “Sweet, Embraceable You,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and “Be Our Guest.”