What’s next for Loretta Lynn?

When she plays MerleFest this Thursday night, Loretta Lynn will have capped a comeback more extraordinary than Ralph Stanley’s resurrection after the second coming of “Oh Death.”

Van Lear Rose, her peeled-back, Jack White-produced retrospective album released last spring, was lapped up by country-phobic critics from Shaker Heights, Ohio, to shakingthrough.net. In February, Lynn’s Rose won Grammys for Best Country Album of the Year and Best Country Collaboration with Vocals; last month, the original coal miner’s daughter received Country Music Television’s 2005 Johnny Cash Visionary Award.

One wonders whether she’s set to evolve into the next Emmylou Harris, inasmuch as that silver-haired goddess became, in recent years, the surprise vocal contributor du jour. Of course, pairing silken-voiced country divas with younger or gruffer warblers can be a dicey endeavor: Emmylou with Beck? Give us more. Emmylou with Bright Eyes? Even better. Emmylou with Hayseed Dixie? Outlook not good.

Then again, when it came to the stark rock production of Van Lear Rose, Loretta’s prickly aura proved a natural match. So bring it on.

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