Having stunned the world with 2003's Elephant, Jack White turned his attention to other projects before releasing White Stripes' fifth album (side projects between White Stripes albums would become a bit of a thing for Mr. White). Following his folksy soundtrack album for Cold Mountain, White produced the highly entertaining and successful Loretta Lynn album, Van Lear Rose. While Lynn had tried to stage a comeback in 2000, it didn't garner her nearly the attention this album did. Jack White's bluesy minimalism serves Lynn well. "Van Lear Rose" is a classic country storyteller in the vein of "The Coal Miner's Daughter," a really lovely ballad in the classic sense of a what a ballad is, telling the story of how mother, a former beauty queen, met her coal-miner father. It's a great opening, but "Portland, Oregon" is even better, celebrating a night of heavy drinking in a dingy Portland bar. It's a duet between Loretta and Jack, his only vocal appearance here. Much of this album is just joyous though. "Have Mercy" is particularly White Stripes-ish, propelled by pedal-tuned guitar and insistent drum bursts. "High on a Mountaintop" is shamelessly toe-tapping folksy fun. "Little Red Shoes" is a goofy spoken-word memoir about Lynn remembering her childhood. "Miss Being Mrs." has great acoustic guitar work. Even non country fans would be hard-pressed to not find something to like about this enchanting set.
Best: Portland Oregon, Van Lear Rose, Have Mercy, High on a Mountaintop, Little Red Shoes, Miss Being Mrs.