My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Mountain country magic: A tribute to Patty Loveless

Photo by Nicole Spaller, patty-loveless.net

Photo by Nicole Spaller, patty-loveless.net

When we announced Patty Loveless as our Spotlight Artist, all of us here at My Kind of Country were very excited about the opportunity to write about one of our favorites.  In past months, we’ve brought in Guest Contributors to help out with the reviews.  But this month, all the reviews were snatched up pretty quickly by the regular staff, so we didn’t have room for our guest writer friends to share their thoughts with you on Patty’s albums.  But we have one reader who is admittedly a bigger fan of Miss Patty Loveless than any of us and he came up with his own idea for an article, just so he could be part of October’s Patty coverage.  Stephen Fales, who you will all know as Steve from Boston, composed the following piece as a tribute to his favorite singer.  We’re glad to have him as a Guest Contributor here at My Kind of Country, and hope you enjoy his tribute to a peerless artist.

- J.R. Journey

No one has done more to bring the mountain sound to modern country music, and few with such compassion and grace as Patty Loveless. There have been accounts of fans trying to thank Patty for the profound impact that her music has wrought in their lives, and all they were able to manage were tears when they tried to speak. Patty, with genuine humility and understanding, attributes this transfomative effect to “the power of music”. Indeed, music is a divine gift, the language of the angels and of the heart. But this is not just any music, and Loveless is not just any singer.

Patty Loveless has been blessed with one of the purest, most authentic and profoundly resonant mountain-country voices in the music world. It is an echo of her own empathetic heart, and seems to emanate from the very depths of her Appalachian soul, and the voice of Patty Loveless touches people right to the core of their being.

Loveless’ warm Appalachian alto is rich and expressive, and her gentle Kentucky drawl and twangy mountain timbre come as naturally to her as breathing. Her skillful phrasing, measured melisma, and mature sense of nuance convey a depth of emotion that is extraordinary, almost otherworldly. She is a true vocal virtuoso and knows both restraint and abandon. Patty Loveless inhabits the heart of a song, and has no need to resort to histrionics or ostentatious vocal gymnastics. She is all about the music, and allows her music to speak for itself.

At times Patty’s musical pendulum swings deeply to the countryside, as with her album Sleepless Nights and at others, to the mountainside, with offerings such as her Mountain Soul albums, but she never settles for the middle road of mediocrity. On the contrary, Loveless has found her golden mean with a unique mountain blend that combines the best of both traditions. This is best exemplified on her On Your Way Home, and Dreamin’ My Dreams albums, but it is pervasive throughout her catalog. It is real mountain-country music, and Loveless is perhaps it’s most inspired and accomplished practitioner.

Patty Loveless may not have the largest fanbase in country music, but she has one of the most musically savvy and profoundly devoted group of fans anywhere. By following her own heart and artistic vision, she connects deeply with the hearts of her fans, which include many everyday people and some very high profile folks as well. Music lovers all, including some of her own mentors like Ralph Stanley, and George Jones, and also folks like her longtime vocal partner Vince Gill, as well as Marty Stuart and Sara Evans. Even horror novelist Stephen King is a devoted fan, and it is said that he owns all of Patty’s albums. But they all sing Patty’s praises in various ways:

From the liner notes of George Jones great album Cold Hard Truth, a caption beneath a photo of Patty and George: “Patty Loveless, a “REAL” country singer whom I love.”

Can there be any higher compliment for those who love real Country music?! Patty Loveless is as real and as country as George Jones and Hank Williams, and as Appalachian as Ralph Stanley and Bill Monroe.

Patty Loveless, Ralph Stanley, and Emmylou Harris performing at L.A.'s Universal Amphitheatre in 2002.

Patty Loveless, Ralph Stanley, and Emmylou Harris performing at L.A.'s Universal Amphitheatre in 2002.

And this from Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Country liner notes: “To me, I rate Patty Loveless right up there with George Jones. She’s got a lonesome sound. You can’t beat that mountain sound.”

Not to mention that the good Dr. Stanley often calls Patty the “Queen of Mountain Soul” and one of his, if not his favorite singers.

Producer Tony Brown said of the Vince Gill/Patty Loveless collaboration “When I Call Your Name”:

“Gill….had decided to bring in Patty Loveless who’d been born into the kind of eastern Kentucky country Gill craved. “She came in on her part, ” Tony Brown remembers, “and I swear, I almost started crying. It was one of the best pieces of casting ever…. they brought all that bluegrass and gospel stuff together to the mainstream. When it got on the air, people started calling me and saying – ‘this may be the most perfect record I’ve ever heard’”

When Kathy Mattea needed an authentic Appalachian voice for her acclaimed rootsy Coal album, she called in Patty Loveless. Mattea describes Patty’s harmony vocals on “Blue Diamond Mines” as “a thing of wonder”.

Both Marty Stuart and Don Imus have referred to her as “the great Patty Loveless” and Stuart predicted with certainty that Patty would one day be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Sara Evans has said many complimentary things about her musical heroes, including these about Patty Loveless:

“I love Patty Loveless and she has been an infuence on me. We both have a bluegrass background, that ‘attack the note’ kind of thing.”

And for a promotional ad for an awards show, Sara was asked who would be her ideal duet partner, and she replied: “Patty Loveless, we’d record “In The Pines” together. “

And evidence that Patty’s influence has reached the traditionally inclined of the younger generation, Joey Martin, of Joey + Rory states: “To Dolly, Emmylou, Patty, and all my heroes in country music. You spoke to me as a child and gave me a dream.”

And from the GAC website, more praise for the Grand Ole Opry star: “John Grady, Sony Nashville president and staunch supporter of Patty’s musical artistry, attests, “In all of the time I’ve worked in Nashville, the two people that have consistently made the best records in town are Patty Loveless and Emory Gordy Jr.”

Also from GAC: “Patty’s music reflects the vital richness of an artist at the height of her powers. Gifted with an unfailing ear, she has built a 20-year career around exceptional songs…”

Indeed, Loveless’ voice just keeps getting better with the years, seasoned and aging to perfection like her musical heroes George Jones and Ralph Stanley. Loveless is often visibly moved when she hears her own heroes sing, but one wonders if she fully realizes that she herself has that same “Stanley/Jones” effect on her own listeners.

And along with her husband/producer (and genuine musical genius) Emory Gordy Jr., Patty Loveless has a knack for choosing and writing first rate material. They are modern “Songcatchers” in the grand Appalachian tradition.

And it’s not just Patty’s friends, fans and industry associates that sing her praises. The pundits have equally high regard for her artistry and integrity, and have given her a deep well of critical acclaim:

“Loveless is the best of her generation. Not even Martina McBride with all her range and emotion can match the soul in the grain of her voice, nor does anyone posses as pure a country voice with the exception of Emmylou Harris perhaps.” – Thom Jurek, All Music Guide

Patty Loveless has made even-handed empathy a foundational aspect of her career, making music that both men and women can relate to. Songs like “You Don’t Even Know Who I Am” and “Love Builds the Bridges” are clear examples, but the undercurrent of understanding pervades her entire repertoire. Entertainment Weekly’s Alanna Nash, reviewing Only What I Feel, puts it this way:

“More than anything, Loveless is concerned with songs that foster understanding between the sexes. In an age when many female country singers build a career on male bashing, Loveless increasingly proves the value of musical integrity — and passionate dignity. A+”

Country Universe editor Kevin J. Coyne’s great 400 Best Contemporary Country Singles gives Patty Loveless special mention:

Time is a river, flowing forever, away from the sound of your heart.’ “If you’re wondering why Loveless keeps popping up on this list, it’s because of lyrics like that, coupled with a mountain voice that is unparalleled in modern country music. With husband Emory Gordy Jr. at the producer’s helm, she made the most artistically significant traditional country music of the last 20 years. Am I exaggerating? Go download “To Have You Back Again” and give it a listen, then tell me who’s done better music in the traditional vein.”

Patty Loveless may not command the top of the charts anymore like she did in the 1990s, but this award-winning artist has perhaps the finest, most well balanced and comprehensive album catalog in the country music world. Consider her output:
- roughly a dozen traditional style albums, including a rare CMA nod for a female artist for the album When Fallen Angels Fly
- two exquisite bluegrass albums,
- a wonderful Appalachian Christmas album, and
- a brilliant classic country covers album

The only thing that’s missing really is a gospel album, but even there, she has integrated six wonderful gospel numbers into her two bluegrass albums.

With this uniquely well balanced album catalog, Patty Loveless has covered all the bases that are expected of the most accomplished and legendary country artists. And these are not mere token efforts, but rather they are inspired and focused labors of love from Patty and husband Emory.

Performing at the Grand Ole Opry in 2005.

Performing at the Grand Ole Opry in 2005.

And as a concert performer, Loveless is all full of mountain magic and country charisma. She is easy going and down to earth with a great down-home sense of humor. Her concerts are breathtaking, captivating and completely entertaining,  and she often sounds even better live than recorded. Her live performances prove that her incredible records are no accident, as she easly matches or surpasses them in concert. Very few singers so perfectly balance artistic integrity and maturity with commercially viable entertainment appeal.

Patty Loveless may well be the best “down from the mountain” ambassador of our time. By virtue of her real mountain roots, her coal miner’s daughter heritage, and her acclaimed country name, no one has more credibility in this regard, or is better suited to bring the mountain sound to the masses. Steeped in the musical cultures of both Opry and Appalachia, and expressing her vision with one of the most beautiful, heart-wrenching, and poignant country voices, Patty Loveless is uniquely qualified for this mission.

In the span of one ongoing and exceptional career, Loveless has gone from honky tonk angel to Appalachian archangel. Her current offering, Mountain Soul II is a deeply moving and compassionate record that features songs for the broken hearted, the imprisoned, the bereaved, and the impoverished. This is an artist who gracefully instills her deeply held convictions as well as her incomparable talent into each new masterwork, and Mountain Soul II is but the latest example.

Patty Loveless is an authentic keeper of the flame, and a cultural guardian of a unique and important American art form. And by her fidelity to this rich musical heritage, and by virtue of her own considerable musical contributions, Patty Loveless has become a living legend and a genuine national treasure.

Thank you Patty, for always giving us the good stuff
for respecting our intelligence
for favoring the timeless over the trendy
for offering soul-nourishing songs instead of musical junk food
for being secure in your musical identity
for staying true to your artistic vision
for bringing the mountain sound to the masses
for giving voice to our joys and sorrows
for befriending us with your music
for teaching tradition, even as you entertain
for perfectly integrating the roles of artist and entertainer
for honoring the grand traditions of the genre in your work
for stengthening and advancing the identity of real country music
for singing without technological tricks
for favoring the authentic over the artificial
for your intimate and trancendent concerts
for your artistic integrity and heroic perseverance
for your creative innovation that never betrays your roots
for the world of musical wonder contained in your vast repertoire
and for setting up a new generation to love and appreciate real country music.

For all this and so much more, we cannot thank you enough. Your kind of country is our kind of country.

-Stephen Fales, Boston, Massachusetts

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14 responses to “Mountain country magic: A tribute to Patty Loveless

  1. Blake October 20, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    A very nice article and all-around tribute this month to one of the greatest country singers of all time. Kudos.

  2. Razor X October 20, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    I don’t think I can add anything to what you’ve already said, Steve. Nice tribute.

    • Steve from Boston October 21, 2009 at 10:18 am

      Thanks Razor…I thought of a few things after the fact that I wish I had included.

      Marty Stuart’s full quote was something along the lines, of “Please welcome one of the finest Country singers on planet earth, I love this lady, the great Patty Loveless” It was during an Opry special that honored Porter Wagoner.

      Also, Emmylou Harris once said that Patty has a great ear for poetry in her lyrics.

  3. Michael October 20, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    Wonderful writeup, Steve. If it wasn’t obvious before, your love of Patty and her music is now. Nice job!

  4. Steve from Boston October 21, 2009 at 10:03 am

    Thanks everyone, glad you enjoyed it.

    Thanks to J R for the opportunity to write about my favorite artist on one of my favorite sites, and for the wonderful presentation of the article, intro, photos, and captions.

    I chose Nicole’s wondeful photo of Patty, Emory and Marcia Ramirez from Patty’s fansite patty-loveless.net Nicole’s site is a wonderful, one stop for all things Patty, the best on the internet, and has been for some years now, Thanks to Nicole for her gracious permission to use her photo here.

    But the other two shots were J R’s idea, and fit the text perfectly! All three illustrate important aspects of Patty’s career, her partnership with husband/producer Emory, Patty’s performances and artistic equality with her musical heroes, Ralph Stanley and Emmylou Harris, (and others, by extension) and her 20 plus year membership as a Grand Ole Opry star..

    Plus, I love the enraptured expression on Patty’s face in Nicole’s photo, as she is obviously enjoying Emory’s guitar solo. It illustrates at least two things about Patty, her deep love for the music (and her husband, of course) and also her humility, she has always been more than willing to share the spotlight, and takes special delight in giving her fellow bandmembers a chance to shine.

    But all three of these photos are dynamic and illustrative.

  5. Occasional Hope October 21, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    You found some great quotes about Patty.

  6. Kenzie October 21, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    Great tribute Steve, thanks so much for sharing. Thank you for sharing the link to the Patty website as well, I am looking forward to looking it all over. I saw it in a google search earlier and didn’t check it out yet, but now will have to. Her official site stinks.

    • Steve from Boston October 21, 2009 at 11:59 pm

      Thanks Kenzie, I think you’ll like PLN, the unofficial site much more. patty-loveless.net really does her justice and is so much better, it has been that way for years now.

  7. Col lees October 26, 2009 at 10:20 am

    Nice words. Can’t add to that…

  8. Bonnie October 27, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    What a wonderful article, Steve! Like I’ve told you before, you’re a fantastic writer. You have a great style, very articulate and descriptive. I look forward to reading future articles. Keep up the good work! Maybe you can think about writing a book on Patty- I’d buy it.

  9. Ben Foster May 26, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    What a beautiful tribute to an amazing artist! Makes me appreciate her even more. It’s a shame we don’t hear much of Patty on country radio anymore.

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