2003’s On Your Way Home marked Patty Loveless’ return to mainstream country, following her critically acclaimed bluegrass album Mountain Soul. She and producer Emory Gordy, Jr. revisited the formula that had worked so well for them in the nineties, combining traditional country with the best contemporary songs they could find, drawing upon writers such as Paul Kennerley, Marty Stuart, Rodney Crowell, Ronnie Samoset, Matraca Berg and Jim Lauderdale.
Things got off to a strong start with the lead single, a cover of Rodney Crowell’s “Lovin’ All Night”. Her three previous singles had failed to chart, but radio initially seemed happy to have Patty back in the mainstream and added “Lovin’ All Night” to their playlists. Patty sounds more energized on this track than she had in a long time, and her version easily trumps Crowell’s own recording. Though it was her strongest showing on the charts in years, “Lovin’ All Night” stalled at #18, which seemed to indicate that Loveless was past her commercial peak.
The second single was the beautiful title track, written by Ronnie Samoset and Matraca Berg. Had it been released about a decade earlier, it would have been a huge hit. That it only climbed to #29 on the charts is nothing short of criminal. Similar in style to Loveless’ earlier hits “Here I Am” and “You Don’t Even Know Who I Am”, “On Your Way Home” manages to sound contemporary yet country, without being overproduced or drowning in pop overtones. Its failure to gain traction at country radio can be partially attributed to the format’s increasing tendency to embrace fluff and reject substantive songs. It might have gotten a warmer reception if it had been released by a younger artist, but it is hard to imagine any other vocalist who could have sung this song with the passion and emotion that Loveless does.
Epic released one more single from this set — “I Wanna Believe”, written by Al Anderson, Gary Nicholson, and Jessi Alexander. Peaking at #60, this was the last time Patty Loveless appeared on the Billboard country singles chart as a solo artist. I probably would have released the more radio-friendly Jim Lauderdale, Buddy Miller and Julie Miller composition “Looking For A Heartache Like You” instead of this one, though it likely would not have fared any better on the charts. “I Don’t Wanna Be That Strong” is the most contemporary song on the album and seems like another good candidate for a single release, but in all likelihood, Epic was unwilling to invest any more money promoting this album, given the lukewarm reception the previous singles had received.
The rest of the album seems to have been made without regard to commercial concerns. The opening track “Draggin’ My Heart Around” written by Paul Kennerley and Marty Stuart is an energetic, uptempo number, despite the forlorn lyrics:
I believe I’m slowly sinkin’
Feel like I’m goin’ down,
It’s bound to be the death of me
If you keep draggin’ my heart around.
“Born-Again Fool” is the most traditional song on the album, and one of my favorites. Written by Roger Brown, it tells the tale of a man whose life is in disarray after the woman he loves proves to be untrue:
Believing that her love would be his salvation,
But faith in her heart proved to be his damnation.
Another false idol, another heart torn in two,
Oh, there’s no one as lost as a born-again fool.
No Patty Loveless album would be complete without at least one bluegrass-flavored tune. Though it features an electric guitar and pedal steel, Loveless’ voice gives “Higher Than The Wall” that high lonesome sound. It was later covered by The SteelDrivers on their 2008 debut album.
Though all of the songs on this album are strong, it is the closing track that is the true highlight. “The Grandpa That I Know”, written by Tim Mensy and Shawn Camp, and previously recorded by Joe Diffie, is sung from the point of view of a young girl at her grandfather’s funeral. Anyone who has ever lost a loved one can relate to the singer’s observation that body in the casket bears little resemblance to the grandfather she knew and loved:
They’ve got him laying there in pinstripes,
How’d they get him in that suit?
I guess the Lord will recognize him
Without his overalls and mule.
They all say he looks so natural,
But all I see’s a cold dark hole.
I won’t commit this day to memory,
That ain’t the Grandpa that I know.
As always, Loveless delivers this song with appropriate restraint, with an emotion-infused vocal performance that few other singers can match.
On Your Way Home holds its own against Loveless’ best-selling 90s albums and is in fact, her best mainstream album since 1994’s When Fallen Angels Fly. That it failed to reignite her career at radio and retail is no reflection on its quality; rather it is a sad commentary on a genre that values youth and gimmickry more than it does well-written, well-produced, and well-sung songs.
On Your Way Home is out of print in CD form, but used inexpensive used copies can be purchased at Amazon. It is also available digitally at Amazon and iTunes.