Hot on the heels of the success of 1993’s Only What I Feel, Patty Loveless and Emory Gordy Jr. headed back to the studio to record her sophomore album for Epic Records. A lot was riding on this follow-up album; Patty’s album sales had been inconsistent throughout her career up to that point and she needed to prove that she could deliver the commercial goods on a regular basis.
I’ll admit to being slightly concerned when “I Try To Think About Elvis” was released to radio in July 1994 as the advance single to When Fallen Angels Fly. A semi-novelty tune, it was a departure for Patty and it was one of her least traditional singles to date. Loveless herself expressed some reservations when the song was initially pitched to her, but she agreed to record it after songwriter Gary Burr changed some of the lyrics to be more female-oriented; substituting high heels and hairdos for boxing and football. Though slightly hokey, it is a fun and infectious song that I grew to like more and more as it climbed the charts. It eventually peaked at #3. It occurred to me as I listened to it again recently, that it is an early example of the much-maligned “list song” which has become increasingly popular in mainstream country music in recent years. However, “Elvis” manages to get through its list of items in a much more clever manner than most contemporary list songs.
Though I got over my initial aversion to the lead single, it was still a relief when the album finally hit stores in August, and proved to have plenty of the traditional-type songs for which Loveless had become famous, in addition to some more contemporary numbers. After the silliness of “Elvis”, Loveless turned serious for her next single “Here I Am”. Led by an acoustic guitar and some subtle pedal steel, Loveless sings the image-rich lyrics beautifully, showing both restraint and power, where appropriate. Today’s female artists would be well advised to study this record and take note of how Loveless handles the soaring bridge, with power and emotion, but never oversinging:
Honey, I got over you passing me over a long time ago,
And my pride was stronger when I was younger
Now I’d rather have you to know,
That here I am …
“Here I Am” earned both critical acclaim and commercial success, reaching #4 on the charts. It is one of two songs on the album written by Tony Arata. His other contribution is the opening track, the inspirational “A Handful of Dust” which Loveless recently revisited for her Mountain Soul II project.
Hot on the heels of the success of “Here I Am”, Loveless released what is perhaps the finest single of her career, the Gretchen Peters-penned “You Don’t Even Know Who I Am”, which was nominated for both a Grammy and Song of the Year by the Academy of Country Music in 1996. Like “Here I Am”, the production is simple, but the lyrics are rich with imagery and pack a powerful punch, telling a tale of a dying marriage, as both husband and wife come to the realization that neither really knows who the other is anymore. It climbed to #5 on Billboard‘s country singles chart.
The fourth and final single from the album was Jim Lauderdale’s “Halfway Down”, which finds Patty picking up the tempo after two consecutive ballad releases. It was the only single from the album to peak outside the Top 5, reaching #6 in October 1995. It is followed by the album’s best track, Billy Joe Shaver’s tale of sin and redemption, “When The Fallen Angels Fly.” This is Patty Loveless at her finest and this track fully deserved to be released as a single. I can only speculate that it wasn’t because Sony didn’t want to release a fifth single, and because two ballads had been sent to radio already. As such, it remains a hidden gem, despite being one of the finest songs in the Loveless catalog.
Another choice album cut is “Ships”, which is another Gretchen Peters composition. It tells the story of a man and a woman, both down on their luck and past their primes, who meet and fall in love during a trip to Las Vegas. In contrast to “Here I Am” and “You Don’t Even Know Who I Am”, this one has a happy ending as the two soulmates watch their ships come in. Closing out the album are the blues harp-driven “Old Weakness (Coming On Strong)” which was later covered by both Delbert McClinton and Tanya Tucker, and “Over My Shoulder” which was also covered by Tucker.
If any further evidence was needed that the success of Only What I Feel was no fluke, it came in October 1995, when the Country Music Association named When Fallen Angels Fly its Album of the Year. This was only the second time in the CMA’s history that the trophy had been awarded to an album by a female artist (the first was Anne Murray’s A Little Good News in 1984). Not initially included among the nominees, it was a last minute substitution when a compilation album by Alison Krauss was deemed to be ineligible. As such, it had been considered a dark-horse candidate and not expected to win. This victory set the stage for Loveless’ Female Vocalist of the Year win the following year.
When Fallen Angels Fly reached #8 on the Billboard Country Albums chart and was certified platinum. It is my personal favorite of Loveless’ mainstream country albums and is well worth adding to any country music collection. The CD is still readily available from Amazon and other retailers. It is also available digitally from Amazon and iTunes.