Patsy Lynn Russell was far away – in the Bahamas on vacation, to be exact – when the phone rang. Mom was calling. “Her words to me were, and remember this is my mother talking, ‘Patsy Eileen, you need to get your tail home because we’ve got a record coming out. We’ve got to get busy.” Such is the anxious artistic drive that gets packed into casual correspondence when your mother is Loretta Lynn. Truth to tell, Russell was already pretty involved in bringing the newest studio recording by the Butcher Hollow-born country music matriarch to fruition. The new “Still Woman Enough,” which hits stores this weekend, is the fourth in a series of albums Russell co-produced for Lynn with another famed country kinsman, John Carter Cash (son of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash.) The company kept was a little different this time, though. Lynn saw the record, a mix of new works and re-recordings of several past hits, as a means to make music with some noteworthy gal pals. They included such cross-generational stars as Margo Price, Carrie Underwood, Reba McEntire and Tanya Tucker. But make no mistake. From the moment the record commences, the voice in charge belongs to the tireless mother Lynn, who turns 89 in April.
“My mom is what we call ‘that singer,’” Russell said. “I don’t know if that comes from standing out on the porch and singing down the holler, but her voice is just so powerful. She may not have the power she had when she was 50 or 30, but her voice is still so big that my mom could probably out-sing 99 percent of the singers out there 20 years younger than her.”
Russell’s involvement on the recording extended to its compositions. She co-wrote the album-opening title tune to “Still Woman Enough” with her mother, picking up on the sense of strength and independence defined on Lynn’s 1966 hit “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man).” Fittingly, a re-recording of the latter closes the new album. “Still Woman Enough” (the song) features Underwood and McEntire while “You Ain’t Woman Enough” re-teams her with Tucker. “As soon as we finished writing the song ‘Still Woman Enough,’ my mom was like, ‘We’ve got to call Reba. I want Reba to come in and sing it with me.’ Then she heard Carrie Underwood cover one of her songs, so at 10 o’clock at night, my mom called and said, ‘Patsy, get ahold of Carrie’s manager. I want her and Reba to come in and sing that song with me.’ It was like they were girlfriends. I thought it was so cool because she just wanted to get her friends together and sing this tribute-kind-of song to women and what they’ve been through.” Reuniting with Tucker was, if anything, even more special. The two singers have been friends since Tucker’s career began in the early 1970s. After decades of massive hits and high-profile hard living, Tucker enjoyed a career renaissance with the Brandi Carlile/Shooter Jennings-produced “While I’m Livin’.” The record took honors for Best Country Album at the 2020 Grammy Awards.
“It’s so funny because Tanya doing her new record with Brandi and Shooter was so much like me and John Carter working with mom. Tanya was playing my mom some rough mixes of her record and my mom said, ‘Tanya, I really like what they’re doing with your music. You know, this might be your ‘Van Lear Rose.’ Just you wait.” “Van Lear Rose” was the Jack White-produced album that creatively rejuvenated Lynn’s career, winning in the same Grammy category in 2005. White would remain in touch with Lynn, especially when it came time to introduce one of his newest proteges. “My mom got a call from Jack White a few years ago. He said, ‘Loretta, I can’t wait to introduce you to a new friend of mine, Margo Price, because she reminds me so much of you.’” In short order, an almost maternal relationship developed between the two singers. The bond was cemented when an eight-month pregnant Price performed “One’s on the Way,” a 1971 Lynn hit dealing with large-scale motherhood, at the elder artist’s 87th birthday concert in 2019 at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. “My mom sat on the side of the stage the whole time Margo was performing that night and was telling me, ‘Honey, she don’t need to be jumping around like that.’ My mom was preparing what was almost a triage nursing station in the dressing room to deliver the baby. My mom, as you know, is from Eastern Kentucky. It was no big deal. ‘We’ll deliver that baby and everything will be fine.’”
There was no backstage birthing that night, but seeds were planted for Price to record a version of “One’s on the Way” with Lynn. It serves as one of the many highlights on “Still Woman Enough.”
“Margo’s reverence for Loretta Lynn was so honest,” Russell said. “I think they shared a little bit of a hard life. My mom came from a really hard life and so did Margo. Even though they were generations apart, that same feeling connects them.” All of this leads up a perhaps unavoidable question. Given the contributions of such all-stars to “Still Women Enough,” how did Russell feel about serving as co-producer for her own mother on their fourth consecutive album together? “It’s been a blessing. But more than that, I feel a responsibility on my end when it comes to my mom. If I didn’t know anything about music, if I didn’t have a clue, we would be talking a different story here. But she gave me an opportunity to work with her and get to know her on a whole different level than just as my mom.
“Growing up, my mom didn’t come off the road with a guitar on her back and songs in her hand. She never did that. Music was not a part of our lives, in our home, to that degree because my mom felt that was her job. As much as she loved being out on the road and being Loretta Lynn and performing and writing, she knew it took her away from her family. So we never saw my mom in that creative light. We saw her walking in the door and planning what to cook for dinner. My mom’s lifestyle has never outgrown her in any way. This woman still makes us peel the labels off mayonnaise jars before putting them in the dishwasher. “I’m so grateful to be part of it and to have the responsibility to make sure this music goes out there for generations beyond us so they can continue to discover Loretta Lynn and her story.”