My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Patty Loveless – ‘On Your Way Home’

onyourwayhome2003’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.

Grade: A

8 responses to “Album Review: Patty Loveless – ‘On Your Way Home’

  1. Steve from Boston October 23, 2009 at 8:50 am

    This is such a great album that I get chills just thinking about it. And your excellent review Razor, made be feel it, especially as I read the lyrics you quoted. Great job.

    I think of this as Patty’s first “mountain mix album” electric yes, but heavily laden with virtuosic acoustic runs,.. the ending of “I Wanna Believe” is basically an acoustic/electric duel, almost symphonic in texture. As great as Patty’s 90’s albums were, I think her mountain mix albums are at an even higher level.

    And the humming, vocal and violin (is is legal to call it that in Country?) interplay of “Nothing Like the Lonely” is a Mountain Bluesy as can be. Just great, great stuff.

    And you picked up on the stylistic similarities bewteen the title cut and “Here I Am”…I’ve been saying that for years and no one else seems to hear it. Thank you Razor!

    Higher Than the Wall would have made a great single. I gotta find the Steeldriver’s debut album too, they do great stuff.

    And “Grandpa” just wow… a word of advice to lesser singers: don’t ever try this at home! . 😉

    • Leeann Ward October 23, 2009 at 8:54 am

      This is one of my favorite PL albums. I especially love the title track. It’s understated yet bitter.

      • Steve from Boston October 23, 2009 at 9:01 am

        The long, mountain-moaning notes on the ” where do you gooooo, on your way home” parts…It just doesn’t get any better than this.

    • Kenzie October 23, 2009 at 10:34 am

      Steve, a couple years ago at a show in Georgia, Patty’s band started the music to Here I Am, and Patty started singing On Your Way Home instead.

      • Steve from Boston October 23, 2009 at 12:52 pm

        I heard about that, Kenzie…and I swear, it must have been partially because of the structual and stylistic similarites of the two songs. Not to mention that we’re all human, and even Patty messes up once in a very great while.

        But I’d love to see the sheet music for both songs, and see about similarities in the chord progressions.

        Here’s another one for ya…Color of the Blues and Richest Fool Alive…I swear (and I could be way off) these two songs seem to have a similar tempo, chord progression and key.

        I think there are also stylistic and structural similarities between Patty’s A Thousand Times a Day, and Sara’s Three Chords and the Truth. Anybody else hear any of this or am I just insane?! 🙂

  2. Razor X October 23, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    Anybody else hear any of this or am I just insane?!

    Does this have to be an “either-or” scenario? 😉

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