My Kind of Country

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

Coming back to Timeless Nights

Timeless  Timeless

I have never been a fan of cover albums- until recently. Last year I went on a Martina McBride kick, getting all of her albums after her Greatest Hits album, including Timeless. Listening to it, I found that I really didn’t like it at all, save a few songs (‘Rose Garden’, ‘Once A Day’, etc.). Now remember, this is back when I didn’t care for more traditional country music (Read as: “Before I started reading The 9513”), but as a result I just had disdain for covers in general. I felt like they were lazy efforts by an artist who didn’t feel like making new music for his/her fans, so they used old music instead. I just didn’t like the album at all, and I never really understood why.

Sleepless Nights

Sleepless Nights

More recently, as in this past December, I bought Patty Loveless’ cover album, Sleepless Nights. Since this blog was brand new and I was trying to compile a list of my favorite albums from 2008, I felt like after all of the glowing recommendations of that album, I needed to hear it for it to be able to make my list.

On the first listen, as I was driving around to different grocery stores looking for powdered sugar (different story), I was sufficiently distracted that I labeled the album as “boring”. All I heard was a bunch of slower songs by a female artist that I wasn’t familiar with, so I didn’t notice anything else. Then, due to a large snowstorm, I was stuck at home, where I finally listened attentively to the album- and boy was I impressed! Listening to it closer, I discovered a heartbreaking set of classics (that I had never heard before) performed by my new favorite singer. I fell in love with almost every song for different reasons, whether it was the great steel guitar (‘Crazy Arms’) or the riveting emotion in Patty’s voice (‘Sleepless Nights’), I found the greatness that had made these songs classics.

So what made me like Patty’s album more than Martina’s? Why did I hate one and love the other? It’s not as clear-cut as one would think. First of all, with both albums, I was familiar with none of the songs, since I know almost no classic country. So for both, it was basically new material that happened to be classic. Similarly, the songs are very similar, mostly down-tempo cheating/leaving/love songs.

So what does that leave? The singers themselves for one. Patty’s voice just fits in the songs like they were always hers, you can feel the raw emotion pouring out through the performances which makes them more believable. Almost always, Martina sounds just a little out of place, mostly because her vocals come across more smooth, more fitted to modern pop-country than traditional styled songs. What’s odd about it though is that Martina’s debut album, The Time Has Come, which I got a few days ago, has more traditional songs and it still sounds great. So to me it seems she has gotten so used to pop-country that she can’t go back and have it sound natural.

Overall, I just think Sleepless Nights is better and more believable than Timeless, even though I love both artists. Timeless is probably my least favorite Martina album, whereas Sleepless Nights is one of my favorite Patty albums.

So what do you guys think? Do you guys agree or disagree with me? What are other good covers albums that I’m missing? What do you guys think about cover albums in general?

Coming Back To You

Coming Back To You

PS: In the way of good cover albums, I recently got the debut album by American Idol alum Melinda Doolittle, titled Coming Back To You. It’s a set of classic soul songs performed by an amazing vocalist. Whereas most debut albums by people on Idol are mediocre, this album sounds like a pro is singing and you guys should give it a chance if you like soul music at all. Listen to it here.

26 responses to “Coming back to Timeless Nights

  1. Razor X March 7, 2009 at 10:33 am

    I’ve never had a bias against covers. I’ve always thought it was a terrific way to introduce a great song to a new audience and the highest form of tribute that can be paid to the original artist. Some songs deserve to have that second — or third — chance in the spotlight.

    I think almost any singer who is being compared to Patty Loveless is at a disadvantage. Patty is the last of the old-time country singers, and simply the creme de la creme. She was born to sing those old songs.

    I do think you’re being a little hard on Martina, though. Timeless was really a labor of love for her. It wasn’ t a “lazy” album; she even went so far as to record the songs utilizing the instruments and technology that was in existence when the originals were recorded. I read that the newest guitar used on the album was from 1965. I suggest that you give Timeless another try. Listen to songs like “I Still Miss Someone” with Dolly’s beautiful harmony vocals or Dwight Yoakam’s harmonies on “Heartaches By The Number” or the magnificent job Martina does on Tammy Wynette’s “‘Til I Can Make It On My Own”.

    Timeless‘ one flaw is that in trying to pay homage to the original artists, Martina sometimes goes too far in mimicking the orgiinal artist’s vocal style and phrasings. This is most evident on the Buck Owens and Connie Smith covers, and it wears thin on repeated listenings.

    I do agree that Sleepless Nights is the better of the two, but both are worthwhile additions to anyone’s collection. And with covers of any classic country song, if you find something you like, seek out the original version by the original artist. It can open up a whole new listening experience for you. Some of my favorite songs were recorded before I was even born. I think it’s important for any country fan to at least have some familiarity with these old songs and singers. One of the biggest problems this genre is facing right now is the loss of touch with its roots — something that will be discussed in my next blog post, which will appear shortly.

    Off my soapbox now. 😉

  2. J.R. Journey March 7, 2009 at 11:01 am

    I agree with Razor that we’ve lost the semblance of our roots in country music.

    But, I also have to completely agree with Chris with his compare/contrast approach to these two albums. I never cared for the Martina album either – it’s my least favorite of all her albums. Somehow, she just doesn’t sound suited for these country classics. And Patty makes it sound effortless.

    I really can’t give any concrete examples as to why I love Sleepless Nights so much more. I just do.

    Great read too, Chris. Me likes.

    • Razor X March 7, 2009 at 11:18 am

      Sleepless Nights has more of what I call “that ’60s feel” to it — even though some of the songs date back to the 50s. It sounds more to me like the kind of records that Porter and Dolly, Merle, and Charley Pride made back in the late 60s. That is probably my favorite era as far as country music is concerned.

  3. Occasional Hope March 7, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    I love Sleepless Nights.

    I do like Timeless as well, and the quality of the material makes it my favourite Martina McBride album. I think one thing which makes it less good than Sleepless Nights is that there is a very strong sense with Timeless that Martina is offering a very respectful tribute. It’s well executed, and some of the individual versions are excellent.

    With Sleepless Nights, you get the feeling that the songs are part of a living tradition – not just a nod to heritage. It feels simultaneously more like both a record which could have been released at the time the songs were written, and in some cases resulted in the definitive versions of the songs, and something completely relevant today.

  4. Brady March 7, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    Glad you went back and checked out Sleepless Nights and enjoyed it, Chris. Although it’s pretty great as it is, tempo is one of the shortcomings of that album–it could use a little more.

    Tanya Tucker did a covers album that’s coming out later this year. It was developed and recorded around the same time as Loveless’ album, but it seems to have had a harder time getting the green light. I hear it’s just as good if not better, though.

    • Razor X March 7, 2009 at 12:54 pm

      Do you mean Lonesome Town? I didn’t realize that was a covers album. I think it’s supposed to be out sometime in the spring, so it shouldn’t be too much longer.

      • Brady March 7, 2009 at 7:54 pm

        No, it looks like they’re calling it My Turn now. Turns out Saguaro Road actually just posted a press release yesterday.

        • Razor X March 7, 2009 at 8:36 pm

          Interesting. I can’t wait to hear her take on some of these classics. And with Pete Anderson producing, they can’t go wrong.

          I’ve heard for a long time now that she’s had an album called Lonesome Town ready to go — even before she signed with Saguaro Road. I think it was originally supposed to come out in 2007. I suppose it will see the light of day sometime.

          Thanks for the info.

  5. highwayman3 March 7, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    Country covers albums are amoung me favourite and most listened to albums. It’s an introduction of some of the greatest songs ever written. I like both Sleepless Nights and Timeless equally, and appreciate the fact that if I hadnt bought these records, I may have never become firmilar with such classic recordings.
    Two other covers albums I enjoy are Alan Jackson’s Under the Influence, and Leann Rimes’ self titled album.

    • J.R. Journey March 7, 2009 at 2:49 pm

      Yes, Alan Jackson’s Under the Influence is probably my favorite covers album. Dwight Yoakam’s Under the Covers is great too.

      • Leeann Ward March 7, 2009 at 2:55 pm

        I agree, Jackson’s and Yoakam’s cover albums are quite good.

        I don’t have anything inherently against cover albums, as long as the effort to make them good is there, as is evident with the albums we’ve all been mentioning so far. I don’t like cover albums when they’re just slapped together…then I might as well just listen to kareoke.

        • Razor X March 7, 2009 at 4:44 pm

          “I don’t like cover albums when they’re just slapped together…then I might as well just listen to kareoke.”

          Do any particular albums in mind that fall into that category, Leann?

          One covers album I was disappointed in was the Tammy Wynette Remembered album, which came out shortly after her death. While there were some wonderful, wonderful contributions by Rosanne Cash, Sara Evans, and George Jones, there were other tracks that I did not like at all — such as the ones from Elton John, Melissa Etheridge and K.T. Oslin. For me, a good covers album has to walk the fine line of paying homage to the original artist, without completely copying the original recording. I don’t like it when a cover version is too different from the original, and that’s why didn’t like the John, Etheridge and Oslin tracks.

        • CMW March 7, 2009 at 5:44 pm

          That sounds like more of a tribute album than a covers album.

        • Razor X March 7, 2009 at 5:50 pm

          Yes, it is. But there’s a little bit of overlap between the categories, don’t you think?

  6. Leeann Ward March 7, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    I too prefer Sleepless Nights to Timeless. I like both albums though. I just think the production on Patty’s sounds warm and perfectly suited to her vocal delivery. The thing about Martina’s album, for me, is that she doesn’t sound as natural as I’d like, like Chris notes. As Razor said, she does too much mimicking rather than finding a way to sound fresh while still sounding connected to the history/originals. At any rate, Martina’s album is a great effort and still very good. It’s not my favorite album of hers, but it’s right up there and definitely above any album she’s made in the last fifteen years.

    I usually need tempo in my albums, but I, somehow, don’t notice the lack of tempo with Patty’s album, though I know it’s a factor.

    I’m very curious about the Tucker album. I can’t imagine it being better than Patty’s covers, but I’m intrigued all the same.

    • Razor X March 7, 2009 at 2:17 pm

      I usually need tempo in my albums, but I, somehow, don’t notice the lack of tempo with Patty’s album, though I know it’s a factor.

      Same here. It really doesn’t bother me at all because she does such a great job on every track.

  7. Steve from Boston March 8, 2009 at 1:34 am

    Great topic Chris, and I pretty much agree with your take on both albums, although I think I like Timeless a little more than you do.

    As great as Timeless is, I think Sleepless Nights is even better. I realize that Timeless is also a labor of love for Martina, but it really doesn’t seem to have much connection to who Martina is TODAY as an artist, where Sleepless Nights is a much more natural evolution, and pretty much embodies everything that Patty is about, and who she is as an artist.

    Martina’s album is slicker, and Patty’s has some rough edges on it, but Patty’s is far more passionate as befits the material. Patty actually brings some “Mountain Soul” to her “Traditional Country Soul” and in so doing, she enriches the material and infuses it with an emotional depth that often even surpasses the originals.. These songs need twang, and Patty brings just the right amount of this essential vocal quality to bear on these Country classics,… Martina brings some twang as well, but it seems more of an effort for her, less natural.

    But Martina’s soaring vocals are especially well suited to songs like “Till I Can Make It On My Own”, This is truly a chill-inducing intepretation. But you cannot swing for the fences with every song, Martina seems to realize this, and sings with appropriate restraint on many of these songs. But unfortunately, “working the verses” is not Martina’s strong point as a vocalist, she needs material that calls for her to fly on the choruses. Unfortunately, that style is more suited to pop than it is to classic country, so ultimately TImeless does not play to Martina’s strengths.

    I agree, sometimes covers are a lazy way out, but I don’t think that characterization applies to either Patty’s Sleepless Nights, or Martina’s Timeless. Both are excellent albums, but in spite of their respective titles, I believe the designation “timeless” is more appropriately applied to Patty’s latest mastepiece than Martina’s.

  8. Steve from Boston March 8, 2009 at 1:58 am

    I just want to add, that this whole thread is a facinating read…Great job everyone!

  9. Steve from Boston March 8, 2009 at 3:11 am

    Does anyone remember how the critics received Timeless? I’m just curious, wondering if they loved it as much as they love Patty’s Sleepless Nights.

  10. Erik March 8, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    I love both albums a whole lot, but if forced to choose, I’d pick “Timeless”, simply because Martina picked better classics to cover.

    • Steve from Boston March 12, 2009 at 2:41 pm

      Erik,

      Even though I like Patty’s record a lot more, I actually agree with you to a point, in that I like some of the songs Martina chose more than maybe one or two of the songs that Patty included.

      “Heartache by the Numbers” over “Don’t Let Me Cross Over” for example…But when Patty brings her vocal alchemy to bear even on this song, she transmutes it from base lead into gold, and my heart just melts at the sound of her voice!

      I’d rate the two albums about equal for song selection, with the exceptions of “Rose Garden” and “Help Me Make it Through the Night” (perhaps my least favorite Kristofferson song) which I could really do without and have to skip over. So, two throwaways (in my book) on Martina’s album, and none on Patty’s, no “skip-over” songs at all on Sleepless Nights .. but.that still leaves Martina’s with a very impressive 16 incredibly great songs!

      Timeless is my favorite Martina album, by far, even more than her Greatest Hits. and I would consider it her masterpiece…

      But the passion, warmth, and soulfulness of Patty’s very expressive vocals and delivery, (even on some of my less than favorite songs on the album) make Sleepless Nights my clear favorite.

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