Loretta Lynn had been a grandmother for over ten years when Jack White was born, and she'd been knocking out Top 10 hits for longer than that. So it's fair to ask exactly what this Johnny-Come-Lately from the White Stripes has to offer one of the grand dames of American music. The answer? Not as much as you might hope. In pairing a country legend with a hip producer, Interscope was clearly hoping to capture the magic of the Johnny Cash/Rick Rubin sessions, and there are quite a few fine moments on Van Lear Rose. The difference may be that Cash transcended his genre to become the Man in Black, and his work with Rubin showed that he was an American treasure who could appeal to just about anyone who liked music. But Lynn isn't a transcendent artist -- she's the full embodiment of a honky-tonk chanteuse, and you have to be a fan of country twang to love her. Not that this is a bad thing: Lynn's voice is as strong as ever. But White's production and guitar work feel like filigree on Lynn's already perfected art.
White's guitar playing is still improving, as he illustrates on the duet "Portland Oregon," and he adds an underlying rumble of rock to several of the songs, such as the persistent drums on "Mrs. Leroy Brown." But White shows respect for Lynn's roots in most instances, which is to his credit. The result is that most White Stripes fans who buy the album will be disappointed. Let them be. The album will win some converts to Lynn's soulful voice, and her legions of fans will just be happy to hear that the woman still sounds fine. While White is lending his powerful name to the album, if it leads to a Loretta Lynn renaissance, it'll be on her merits, not his.