Loretta Lynn Is ‘Still Woman Enough': Co-Producers Patsy Lynn Russell, John Carter Cash Talk Expanding Country Icon’s Legacy With New Album
Patsy Lynn Russell and her twin sister Peggy -- Loretta Lynn's youngest children -- were only six months old when their family moved from Madison, Tenn., just northeast of Nashville, to Hurricane Mills, a small, rural community about an hour southwest of Music City.
"We were sent to public school, and I rode the school bus every morning," Russell remembers, and as far as she, her schoolmates and the locals were concerned, her mom was no different than anyone else's.
"No one cared ... so we thought everybody's mom worked," she notes. "We didn't really understand that until I got to be a teenager."
Russell's whole opinion of her mother changed one night in Las Vegas, Nev., though. It was around the time Lynn's 1980 biopic Coal Miner's Daughter premiered -- well after the now-icon became the first woman to win CMA Entertainer of the Year and released groundbreaking singles including "Don't Come Home a-Drinkin' (With Lovin' on Your Mind)," "The Pill" and "Rated 'X'." Russell, at the time in her mid-teens, watched from the side of the stage as her mom, backed by an orchestra, entertained a crowd: made them laugh, made them cheer, moved them to tears.
"I was thinking, 'My mother's music invoked that emotion, and all of these people are here to see her,'" Russell recounts, "and all of a sudden, it dawned on me ... My attitude changed on it, too: I was like, 'This is badass!'"
"All of a sudden, I became -- I think I just understood that what she did was different than my girlfriends' moms, and I understood that what she did was important ...," she continues. "There was a new gain of respect for my mom at that point ... and I really started admiring her in a different way."
In the mid-'90s, Russell and her twin sister signed to Warner Bros. Records for two albums as the Lynns -- they charted two singles and earned two CMA Vocal Duo of the Year nominations -- but for the past two decades or so, she has worked for her mother's Loretta Lynn Enterprises. Now her mom's manager, Russell is the co-producer of the recent Lifetime movie Patsy & Loretta, the co-author of a book also about Lynn's friendship with fellow country great Patsy Cline, the co-writer of several of her mother's more recent songs and the co-producer, with John Carter Cash, of each of Lynn's albums since 2016, including a new project, Still Woman Enough, out Friday (March 19).
Lynn will be 89 years old in April and already has a decades-long, glass ceiling-breaking legacy for which she'll be remembered; in fact, Still Woman Enough is her 50th album. But Russell -- and Carter Cash, too -- wants to ensure her creative output isn't finished just yet. This legend, they stress, still has more to share.
"She has spitfire energy, and just the same soul and strength and talent in so many ways that she did in the 1960s ... The energy and the vocals, it's familiar," says Carter Cash, himself the son of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. Both of his parents continued to record in their later years; Cash, in particular, released some highly-regarded work in his American Recordings series, co-produced by his son and Rick Rubin.
"He flourished, and, you know, I've seen Loretta do the same thing," John Carter Cash reflects. "... To see that continuance that gives me the strength to hope for the future; it also gives me inspiration while I'm working with them ... We're all gonna get [old], and, my God, I hope I'm like my dad and Loretta and my mother. That would be a dream."
Russell and Carter Cash grew up together, often crossing paths while out on the road with their parents. He calls his parents and Lynn "kindred spirits," and describes co-producing with Russell as like working with a sibling: "It was sort of like my long-lost sister ... had suddenly walked into the same room, and we went back to doing what we'd always done," he explains. Russell says his presence was "a comfort" in the studio.
Together, Russell and Carter Cash have recorded more than 100 songs with Lynn. Fourteen are on the Grammy-nominated 2016 release Full Circle, 13 appear on 2018's Wouldn't It Be Great, and another 13 arrive on Still Woman Enough. Many of the tracks are new versions of Lynn's hits and some traditionals, but the lead and title track, co-written by Lynn and Russell, is brand new; for good measure, it features Reba McEntire and Carrie Underwood.
"Still Woman Enough," Russell shares, dates back to Lynn's autobiography of the same name, released in 2002. "I said then, 'Mom, that sounds like another song,'" Russell remembers. "We just talked about it; I think I maybe wrote a couple lines," but it wasn't until they re-discovered the idea while compiling a list of songs for their sessions with Carter Cash that it became whole.
"We got to talking about it, and I went home and I finished this chorus, and I brought it back in, and she's like, 'You know, I like that, 'cause I've been through some bad times,' and I was like, 'Well, right there's your first line!'" Russell recalls. "And it was quick; when we wrote that song and finished it, it was fast."
Perhaps the only thing the mother-daughter team wasn't on the same page about was who would sing it: "I didn't mean for it to be a duet. My mom did," Russell says, sharing that Lynn expressed interest in having McEntire sing it with her as soon as she began laying down the vocals; the legend suggested Underwood join, too, after seeing the current superstar cover one of her songs at an awards show.
"It was kind of like, 'Okay, okay.' Nobody really paid any attention -- we were just trying to get the track down," Russell admits. "Mom's way smarter than all of us ... [She] saw a broader picture, that this is really about girlfriends standing together ... I think that's part of Loretta Lynn's genius, is knowing those moments."
Lynn's vocals for Still Woman Enough were largely finished pre-COVID-19 pandemic (though she recorded a few small bits from home), but McEntire and Underwood came to Cash Cabin Studios together in late 2020 to lay down their parts.
"[Reba] was this amazing professional that knew exactly what she was doing every step ... and also attentive and open for ideas and input at the same time," Carter Cash recounts. "Carrie's just a wondrous vocalist; she had different ideas and directions and whatnot that we moved with and followed that I wouldn't have necessarily thought of myself."
Midway through Still Woman Enough, Margo Price joins Lynn for a new version of Lynn's Shel Silverstein-penned hit "One's on the Way," which she previously performed at Lynn's 87th birthday celebration at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena. The album concludes with a duet with Tanya Tucker on "You Ain't Woman Enough," a song that Russell says Tucker often quotes to Lynn when they talk.
"That's been their thing for a long time," Russell reveals, "and there was just no one else that we could even think of to sing that song. It's just so Tanya, and Tanya just nailed it."
While Still Woman Enough and Lynn's other recent albums are treats for her fans, they're even moreso for Russell, who's getting to experience her mother's work as both her daughter and a co-worker. As they work together, Russell reflects, she's building on their relationship in a way most people don't get to.
"We know our mom as the one who wakes up for school and gets us dressed, or the one we call, but we don't know her at work; we don't know her work friends," she says. "And I've gotten to be all of those, and to learn all of those things, so I just walk around all the time and go, 'You know what? I'm so flippin' lucky.'"
Carter Cash, too, has deepened his relationship with Lynn. "I have such great respect for Loretta as a mother figure, as a co-worker, as a genius, as someone who has persistence, strength, integrity, that continues on no matter what," he gushes.
Lynn released her first solo single three years before Congress passed the Equal Pay Act; her history-making CMA Entertainer of the Year win came the same year Title IX was signed into law. Her gender and traditional views of women's roles may have made things more difficult for her, but it's precisely because she's a woman, Carter Cash says, that she's still standing.
"I believe masculine nature would not survive in the same aspect," he muses. "Loretta has been able to endure and proceed as she has because she's a powerful woman."
PICTURES: Loretta Lynn Through the Years