In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, to honor Braid’s new record, we’re picking our favorite songs from “comeback” records.
Given the amount of mythology that’s built up around (and actively fostered by) both musicians, it’s fitting that Loretta Lynn and Jack White wound up making an album together. And even that record has a winding backstory, which begins with The White Stripes making a pit stop at Lynn’s Tennessee ranch. A subsequent cover of her divorce anthem “Rated X” followed, along with a personal dedication on the band’s own chronicle of marriage gone bad, White Blood Cells. After that, as the story goes, there was a home-cooked dinner at which Lynn served Jack and Meg White “the best bread you’ve ever had in your life,” and a notebook of unrecorded songs that would form the basis of the 2004 release from the coal miner’s daughter, Van Lear Rose.
Within Lynn’s six-decade (and counting) discography, Van Lear Rose isn’t technically the comeback album: 2000’s Still Country put an end to her lengthy hiatus from the recording studio, returning the singer to the country charts thanks to the modest success of the single “Country In My Genes.” Beyond that, the album didn’t make much of an impact; matching Lynn’s reflections on love and loss with a White-led session band of Midwestern garage-rock ringers, however, would. There’s plenty of looking back on Van Lear Rose, but its best track and lead single, “Portland, Oregon,” situates itself squarely in the present-day (the present day of 2004, at least). Its country-tradition bedrock—a barroom meet-cute set to Dave Feeny’s lonesome pedal steel—is planted in a turn-of-the-21st-century boomtown, where White adds thrift-store Jimmy Page licks left over from The White Stripes’ Elephant. Nodding toward Lynn’s fruitful partnership with Conway Twitty, White makes a worthy duet partner, even if the Kentucky woman’s voice sounds clearer and stronger at 72 than the Michigan man’s ever will. Not that either artist shies away from imperfection—both sound equally convincing singing the lines “But I think it’s wrong to judge every picture if a cheap camera makes a mistake,” after all—and “Portland, Oregon” is a great little ode to doing the wrong thing because it feels so right. Van Lear Rose, on the other hand, is definitely a right thing/feels right enterprise.