My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: ‘A Portrait Of Patsy Cline’

June 1964 saw another posthumous release of previously unreleased Patsy Cline material, in the form of this album. The majority of the songs had been recorded at her final recording sessions, a month before her death, with a handful left over from previous sessions. It does however end up feeling one of her most cohesive albums, and the logical progression from Patsy’s previous studio albums, Showcase and Sentimentally Yours. As was now her trademark, the material mixes country and pop songs, all given orchestral arrangements, and if anything she was moving further away from her country roots.

Opening track ‘Faded Love’ had been a posthumous top 10 country single for Patsy in 1963, and was a Bob Wills cover transformed into an intense torch ballad with a typically exquisite vocal performance wrenching every morsel of regret from the words, and a production laden with strings giving it a sophisticated sheen, but one which supports rather than overwhelms the vocal. ‘I’ll Sail My Ship Alone’ was an old Moon Mullican country song (a #1 hit in 1948) which sounds even more changed under the Cline/Bradley treatment, and the end result is less successful than ‘Faded Love’.

‘When You Need A Laugh’, another single, charted less well, although it is a lovely Hank Cochran ballad of obsessive love, sung beautifully with a melancholy tinge to Patsy’s vocals. The protagonist is so desperate to be with the one she loves, she doesn’t care if he is laughing at her:

At least I’m on your mind when you’re laughing….
Even if the laugh’s on me I don’t mind at all
So when you need a laugh give me a call

It was one of the songs resurrected from a previous recording session (in September 1962), as was ‘Your Kinda Love’ . The latter was also released as a single but did not chart at all despite a beautiful, nuanced interpretation. It was written by Roy Drusky, another country artist who Owen Bradley was producing at the time, and who subsequently went on to a long and reasonably successful career.

Harlan Howard’s ‘When I Get Thru’ With You (You’ll Love Me Too)’, recorded in February 1962, gave Patsy the opportunity to sing something with a bit of attitude, although the backing vocals are a little intrusive and the end result is closer to early 60s pop rather than country. The enjoyably beaty mid-tempo ‘Who Can I Count On’ had been the B-side to Patsy’s 1961 hit ‘Crazy’.

My favorite track is a version of the classic ‘You Took Him Off My Hands’, composed by Harlan Howard with the singers Wynn Stewart and Skeets McDonald. Wynn had recorded it himself (as ‘You Took Her Off My Hands’), but Patsy’s version sounds as though it was written for her, so perfectly does it fit her template. Patsy has the opportunity to emote as she fancifully addresses the one who has taken her lover and begs her to take his memory too, and the production works with the song rather than against it.

Patsy delivers an excellent vocal on the cover of ‘Crazy Arms’, then a recent hit for Ray Price (in 1956) and now a country standard, although the production and backing vocals are somewhat intrusive. A surprise comes with an excellent version of Bill Monroe’s bluegrass classic ‘Blue Moon Of Kentucky’, where Patsy’s vocals swoop and growl unexpectedly and bring a certain unexpected rawness to the track, despite the intrusive backing vocals, strings and jaunty sounding instrumentation.

‘Does Your Heart Beat For Me’ and Irving Berlin’s ‘Always’ are very accomplished, and no doubt appealed strongly to Patsy’s pop fans, but are a little dull. ‘Someday (You’ll Want Me To Want You)’ is more successful, with a beautifully nuanced interpretation.

Patsy’s vocals on this album show her at her peak. The material is very good, although the production (particularly the backing vocals) is intrusive at times.

The album has been re-released several times, and is now available digitally, although only used copies of CDs. You can listen to several of the tracks at last.fm.

Grade: A-

7 responses to “Album Review: ‘A Portrait Of Patsy Cline’

  1. Razor X January 22, 2010 at 8:55 am

    With this album, I think Patsy was beginning to stray a little too far from her roots, and she seemed to have some reservations about it. She invited Loretta Lynn and her husband over to her house to listen to some of the tracks right after they were recorded and asked them if it was too pop. They reassured her that it wasn’t. But it would have been interesting to see how much further in this direction she would have gone had fate not intervened.

    “When I Get Thru With You” has got to be one of the most pop-leaning songs ever to spring forward from the pen of Harlan Howard. Her version of “Faded Love” is magnificent. I also like her renditions of “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and “Crazy Arms”, though I agree with you that the production on the latter is somewhat intrusive. This is a good album, but I’d rank it slightly below Showcase and Sentimentally Yours.

  2. J.R. Journey January 22, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    I think that’s an interesting observation, Razor. Patsy was certainly courting crossover success. I think she may have went on to go as far as Dolly Parton did in that direction, but would have probably returned to her roots and honky-tonk music at some point. She was always fighting to record more traditional music as I understand it.

    Really cool story about Loretta Lynn coming to preview the album too.

    • Razor X January 22, 2010 at 9:28 pm

      I think she would have continued recording the same type of music that Jim Reeves and Eddy Arnold were doing, but would have eventually gone back to some more country-sounding material.

      I also think that this album would have been different if she’d lived longer. I think she may have gone back into the studio and recorded a few more sides that would might have taken the places of some of the 1962 recordings. I really question if a song like “When I Get Thru With You”, which was a very minor hit, would have made it onto an album if they’d had anything else they could have used. I’m not saying it’s a bad song, but it’s certainly not one of her best.

      • Occasional Hope January 23, 2010 at 4:52 am

        I agree – they only used the older cuts to fill it out.

        This album would originally have been intended to include Sweet Dreams which they put on the Patsy Cline Story instead.

  3. Razor X January 23, 2010 at 9:43 am

    There were a few other songs that were likely originally considered for inclusion, as well. Instead they turned up on the next album, That’s How A Heartache Begins , which was released later in 1964. We won’t be reviewing that one, but they apparently included a few songs left over from the final 1963 sessions, threw in a couple of previously released B-sides (“Lovin’ In Vain'”, “Shoes”) and even culled a few tracks from her Four Star catalog to fill it out. At this point they were clearly running out of original material. All of the albums released after this point were compiliatons.

  4. Paul W Dennis January 28, 2010 at 1:10 am

    “Lovin’ In Vein” , which was written by Freddie Hart, would have made a great single. Patsy did a great job on the song – in fact only Lisa Layne’s recording equals Patsy’s version

    • Razor X January 28, 2010 at 12:10 pm

      “Lovin’ In Vain” was the single that Patsy wanted to release. Owen Bradley agreed to let her record it if she agreed to record “I Fall To Pieces,” which of course, ended up being the A side of the record.

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