Loretta Lynn has just been on the phone with the White Stripes' Jack White. ''I called and asked how he was doing,'' she reports. ''I heard he had a little scrap, so I said, 'Hell-o, Muhammad Ali!''' Lynn was referring to White's widely reported fisticuffs with Von Bondies frontman Jason Stollsteimer, whose band White once produced. Let's hope scuffles with former clients don't become a habit, because White's latest producee is Lynn herself.
Hopes are high that the odd coupling between a 28-year-old rock wunderkind and a 68-year-old country legend could afford Lynn the kind of career renaissance Johnny Cash enjoyed after teaming up with Rick Rubin. Tentatively titled Van Lear Rose (the singer grew up in Van Lear, Ky.), the disc finds Lynn writing or cowriting all the songs, something she hasn't done since the early '60s. But it's the White hookup -- and their duet on a tune called ''Portland, Oregon'' -- that'll likely spur a press blitz. White is a huge fan, having dedicated the Stripes' 2001 CD White Blood Cells to Lynn (which led to their meeting last year). The feeling is mutual. ''Here little old Jack is not old as nothin', and I guarantee you, if he ever takes a notion to quit recording [his own albums], he'll be one of the best producers around,'' Lynn says. Goodbye, Muhammad Ali; hell-o, George Martin! (late spring)