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Country singer keeps it pure

"I like music that really touches the heart," says country music legend Loretta Lynn. "I know that I sing for others - I know because I get letters from other women and from men, too. Men are really just like us - they have hearts. Whenever I'm on stage they say 'I love you.' The women yell it out, but the men [mouth] it. I tell them all I love them, too."

The queen of country, the legendary singer-songwriter Lynn, is at it again. Her newest television offering, "Loretta Lynn: Live By Request" (A&E, March 15, 9-11 p.m., check local listings) will feature some of her greatest songs.

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As in past "Live By Request" concerts (featuring the likes of Willie Nelson, Phil Collins, James Taylor, and Reba McEntire) fans will be able to call in or e-mail song requests and access texts, including lyrics to the songs she's singing, discographies, and biographical information. And the A&E series "Biography" will air an installment on Lynn just before the concert.

Ms. Lynn's 1970 album "Coal Miner's Daughter" was named one of the 100 most important musical works of the 20th century by National Public Radio in 2000, and she was the first woman country singer to have a certified gold album. Her newest release, "Still Country," is alive with all the same country spirit that made her great.

Film buffs who loved director Michael Apted's "Coal Miner's Daughter" (Sissy Spacek won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Lynn) will recall what a difficult life she's had. That film covered her childhood and early career.

Married at 13, she knew heartbreak, loss, and hunger, though she offers with pride that her own children never went to bed hungry. She has written and sung about it all. Sometimes she raised controversy by defying the Bible-belt mentality that would have kept women of her generation in their place.

"I sang about true life. I still do," she says. "I've sat with the women and talked about [their problems]. When I wrote 'Don't Come Home A-Drinkin,' they were living the same life. Why hide it? Why not sing about it?

"These songs weren't dirty, they were about what we were living through. But some radio stations wouldn't play them."

Her new album includes "I Can't Hear the Music Anymore," a tribute to her late husband (they were married for 48 years) that really does pluck at the heartstrings, and at the same time is an honest assessment of a long marriage and the man she loved.

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Most country musicians will say that country music is honest in a way pop is not. Lynn says that honesty is what draws her fans. Lynn herself likes her country music pure - Conrad Twitty kept it "good and country," she says, because he told his life stories in his song, as Lynn does herself.

But despite her feelings about keeping the integrity of country, some of her favorite singers are not purists. "I love Tricia Yearwood's singing, and she's not that country. I told Faith Hill the first time I saw her that she had the name, the face, and the voice and she would make it," Lynn says.

Her all-time favorite singer, Celine Dion, doesn't sing country at all. "She's one of the great singers," she says.

"And I love Barbra Streisand. They have that soul to their singing. They are saying it like it is. I feel what they are feeling when they sing."

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor