My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Patty Loveless – ‘Honky Tonk Angel’

Honky Tonk AngelPatty Loveless’ third album, released in 1988, marked her real commercial breakthrough. It was her first gold-seller (and eventually reached platinum status), and it also built on her growing success on country radio. No less than five of the ten tracks were released as singles – an unusually high number at the time. It is a testament to the strength in depth of the material that every single one was a top ten hit.

Whereas Patty’s first two albums had been co-produced by Tony Brown with Emory Gordy Jr, this time Brown took sole charge, and he delivered a commercial, radio-friendly record with enough traditional influences to fit perfectly with the tune of the times. The title alone was something of a statement of intent, as a phrase which does not appear on any of the lyrics of the songs, but one which called to mind Kitty Wells’ 50s classic ‘It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels’. A predominantly up-tempo set of material drew on Patty’s rock-singing past and her mountain background, intermixed with some soaring ballads which showed off her beautiful voice and emotive interpretative ability.

The opening track, and lead-off single, was the beaty country-rock ‘Blue Side Of Town’, written by Hank DeVito and Paul Kennerley. It was followed by the pleading ballad ‘Don’t Toss Us Away’, written by rock musician Bryan MacLean, and previously recorded by the country-rock group Lone Justice featuring MacLean’s sister, future pop star Maria McKee, on vocals. Brown’s production and Patty’s vocals transformed it into a pure country song, one which allowed Patty to stretch out vocally and show how she could emote, supported by Rodney Crowell on harmony vocals, as she begs:

Don’t toss us away so thoughtlessly
It just ain’t right
Oh can’t you see
I still love you
I want you to stay
Darlin’ please, don’t toss us away

Patty’s first #1 single was the engaging up-tempo ‘Timber I’m Falling In Love’, one of several tracks here to benefit from Vince Gill’s prominent harmonies. It was also the first #1 for its writer, Kostas. The same combination of Kostas as writer, Patty on lead, and Vince Gill on harmony (together with bluegrass vocalist Claire Lynch) was responsible for the fourth single, the full-blooded ballad ‘The Lonely Side Of Love’. Only reaching #6, it was the least successful of the singles from the album, and is one of Patty’s less well remembered songs today, but it is still a fine recording.

Kostas wrote a third track on the album, the loungy ‘If You Think’, which is beautifully interpreted by Patty as a love song with an underlying hint of sadness as the protagonist defends her love against her lover’s doubts. The final single was my favorite, as Vince Gill’s harmonies again helped ‘Chains’ to the top of the chart. The downbeat lyrics about a woman emotionally tied to a hopeless love are married to an effervescent sound which is utterly irresistible.

Although Patty was just starting to make her mark commercially, she felt confident enough to start incorporating some of the bluegrass or mountain influences she has built on in more recent years. The almost-hypnotic ‘I Won’t Gamble With Your Love’, written by Gary Scruggs and Kevin Welch, again with Gill on harmony, is bluegrass-influenced yet potentially radio-friendly. ‘Go On’, one of Patty’s few ventures into songwriting, this time alongside Roger Murrah, is a beautifully sung plaintive ballad about (hopefully) moving on after the breakup of a relationship, with Claire Lynch on harmony. The song may perhaps reflect Patty’s feelings about the end of her first marriage. Both Lynch and Gill added vocals to a delightful cover of a Stanley Brothers classic, ‘I’ll Never Grow Tired Of You’, written by Carter Stanley.

The album closes with the beautiful love song, ‘I’m On Your Side’, in which Patty begs her loved one to let her share the burden:

Seems like you’ve forgotten I’m on your side
Do you think it makes you more of a man
Shoulder the worry, shield me if you can?
But it’s this wall of silence that’s enough to make me scream
Tear it down, you’ll find we’re on the same team

This is still an album I listen to regularly today, and yet the best was yet to come. It is available digitally, although the CD is out of print.

Grade: A-

9 responses to “Album Review: Patty Loveless – ‘Honky Tonk Angel’

  1. Steve from Boston October 9, 2009 at 10:41 am

    Great job on a fine album, O.H.,,,very interesting and informative. And I agree with your “A-” grading, spot on.

    This is a very fine album indeed, and contains the first song I ever heard by Patty, which was actually the “Chains” video back around ’89 or ’90, I think it was.

    With all the top ten radio hits this great album generated, HTA is almost like an early Patty Loveless “best of” or “greatest hits” album,. Lonely Side of Love is fantastic, and deserves to be more well remembered today, but #6 back then wasn’t bad at all. And “I’ll Never Grow Tired of You” was an awesome foreshadowing of the Appalachian infused material that Patty soon master, it’s one of my absolute favorites. .

  2. Razor X October 9, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    This is a great album. I nearly played it to death when it first came out, and I still listen to it fairly regularly. “Chains” is my favorite song from this set, but they are all top-notch really. When I first got this album, I didn’t think she’d ever be able to top it, but time has proven me wrong in that respect.

    • Michael October 9, 2009 at 5:28 pm

      I have happily been proven wrong more than a few times when I thought Patty couldn’t top herself too. This is probably the strongest album representing her MCA years (although I liked some of the singles from On Down the Line and Up Against My Heart better) and “Chains was also one of the first videos I remember seeing on TNN.

      • Steve from Boston October 9, 2009 at 7:27 pm

        I guess it was TNN back then, was CMT even around at that time? ”

        Chains seems to be a common thread so far. šŸ™‚

  3. Leeann Ward October 9, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    Ha, Steve. I’m shocked that you agree with the grade. Shocked.:)

    I like this album a lot too. In fact, three of my favorite Patty songs are on it: “Chains”, “Timber” and “Don’t Toss Us Away.”

  4. Razor X October 9, 2009 at 9:10 pm

    Yes, CMT was around back then but not as widely available as TNN. I miss TNN.

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