Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Top Ten Greatest Women of the Nineties, #3 - Patty Loveless

Like her distant cousin Loretta, she was born a coal miner's daughter.  She grew up in hills of Kentucky.  She first emerged on the country music scene as part of the neotraditionalist movement of the late 80s.  She brought to country music a sound grounded in tradition, while incorpating elements of pop, as well as often paying homage to her Kentucky bluegrass roots.  The result?  She racked up twenty Top 10 hits on the Billboard country chart, won CMA and ACM awards, and is rightly regarded as one of the greatest country singers of her time.

Patty first surfaced in country music in 1986.  By the dawn of the nineties, she had already been established as a bona fide star in country music.  She had become a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1988, and she had her first number one hit in 1989 with "Timber I'm Falling In Love."

She entered the decade on a high note, scoring her second number one hit from her 1989 album Honky Tonk Angels.  "Chains" was built around a very simple hook, but Patty's performance could hardly have made the song more infectious.

Matraca Berg

While selecting material for her 1990 album On Down the Line, Patty chose to embrace the work of one of Nashville's left-of-center songwriters - Matraca Berg.  Patty recorded Matraca's upbeat and sassy pop-country composition, "I'm That Kind of Girl," and released it as the third single from the album.  "I'm That Kind of Girl" went on to become a Top 5 hit, and helped launch Matraca's successful songwriting career.  Matraca Berg went on to become one of the most celebrated country songwriters of all time.

Though Patty was quickly acquiring a sizable number of radio hits, she was not pleased with her record sales.  A belief arose that her label, MCA, was not giving her albums a sufficient level of promotion.  She replaced her brother Roger Ramey as her manager, and hired Larry Fitzgerald, but the change in management did not improve matters.  Eventually, Fitzgerald felt that it was time for Patty to change record labels.  He met with Patty's then-producer Tony Brown, and asked for Patty to be released from her contract with MCA.  An agreement was reached so that Patty could leave the label, but would still have an option to record with other MCA artists.  Patty released her last album for MCA, Up Against My Heart, in 1991.  She then signed with Epic Sony the next year.

But as Patty headed into the studio to begin recording a new album for Epic, she was faced with a new problem - a problem that nearly brought her burgeoning career to a permanent halt.  She and her husband/producer Emory Gordy, Jr. began to notice that her voice was lacking the strenght it once possessed, and Patty was feeling pain in her throat when singing.

Despite these problems, Patty embarked on a fall 1992 tour, and agreed to appear on the CBS-TV special Women of Country.  But not long after leaving on the tour, a visit to the doctor revealed that her vocal cords had developed an enlarged blood vessel.  Surgery was the only hope for correcting the problem, but there was no guarantee of her voice being fully restored.

Patty went ahead and sang in the television special, but she canceled the rest of her tour dates for that year.  She then underwent throat surgery on October 21, 1992, which left unable to speak for the next nine weeks, let along sing.

After a period of recovery, Patty re-entered the studio and attempted to sing for the first time in months.  "It was the greatest thing," she recalls.  Patty was elated to discover that her voice now had a deeper and fuller quality than ever before.  She even went back and re-recorded several songs that she had cut prior to her surgery, because, she says "I thought I could do them better."  On January 4, 1993 (Her 36th birthday) Patty made a triumphant return to the spotlight, performing on the stage of the Grandy Ole Opry - her first public performance since her surgery.

With the released of her new Epic album Only What I Feel - considered by many critics to be her personal best - Patty re-emerged stronger than ever, scoring her third number one hit with the album's lead single "Blame It On Your Hear."  The album was certified platinum.

Only What I Feel also produced one of Patty's best-remembered and most meaningful hits with "How Can I Help You Say Goodbye," which followed a woman through several life experiences in which she had to learn to say goodbye.  "How Can I Help You Say Goodbye" became a number two hit, and received CMA nominations for Single of the Year and Video of the Year.

Patty's hot streak continued with her platinum-certified 1994 release When Fallen Angels Fly, which spawned four Top Ten hits.  The album's first single was the comic rocker "I Try to Think About Elvis," in which a brokenhearted woman rattles off a list of things she thinks about to keep her mind off her departed ex-lover.  What's at the top of her list?  Elvis - of course.

Patty displayed her strong balladry skills on "You Don't Even Know Who I Am," one of the finest singles of her career.  The Gretchen Peters-penned song took a look at a failed marriage in a way that examines each spouse's point of view.  "You Don't Even Know Who I Am" was nominated for Song of the Year at both the ACM Awards and the Grammy Awards.

Patty's fine performances and strong material selection was rewarded in 1995 when she won the CMA Award for Album of the Year for When Fallen Angels Fly.  She was only the second female artist in history to receive the honor.

Patty's 1996 album The Trouble with the Truth produced five Top 20 hits, including the number one hits "You Can Feel Bad" (another hit single drawn from the Matraca Berg catalog) and "Lonely Too Long."  That year, Patty won Female Vocalist awards from both the ACM and CMA.

One of the album highlights was the single "A Thousand Times a Day" in which Patty compared the endeavor of forgetting a former lover to that of giving up an addiction, declaring that "Forgetting you is not that hard to do/ I've done it a thousand times a day."

Patty's 1997 album Long Stretch of Lonesomes saw her commercial success beginning to slow down.  The album produced no Top 10 hits, but three of its singles did enter the Top 20.  Lead single "You Don't Seem to Miss Me" (Click here to hear the studio recording) included vocals from Patty's musical hero George Jones.  Some radio stations, lacking respect for the legendary Jones, requested a version of the song in which his vocals were edited out, but Patty staunchly refused.  As a result, some stations would not play the song.  Nevertheless, the song still managed to reach hit status, peaking at a respectable #14, and winning a 1998 CMA Award for Vocal Event of the Year.

Patty's radio hits eventually dried up, as pop and rock once again took over country radio airwaves.  Her 2000 album Strong Heart produced two minor Top 20 hits, but Patty soon turned away from hitmaking to explore the traditional bluegrass music of her native Kentucky.  In 2001, she released her masterpiece of a bluegrass album - Mountain Soul, which sold decently, and was lauded by music critics.

Patty released two more mainstream country albums - On Your Way Home (2003) and Dreamin' My Dreams (2005).  The former yielded her final Top 20 hit ("Lovin' All Night," #18) and her final Top 40 hit ("On Your Way Home," #29).

After a two-year break from recording and touring, Patty hopped over to the Saguaro Road label.  She paid tribute to her traditional country influences with her stunning covers album Sleepless Nights, which received a Grammy nomination for Best Country Album.  Last year she released a new bluegrass album - Mountain Soul II.

Though Patty no longer has the support of mainstream country radio, her albums have continued to sell respectably, and she has continued to tour.  One of her most recent projects was her participation in the DRIVE4COPD charity, in which she sough to raise awareness about Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, the ailment which claimed the life of her sister Dotty Ramey.  Patty contributed a charity track, "Drive" to the cause (Read my review).

Patty continues to be a popular concert attraction for all who appreciate some good old-fashioned country music with a little mountain soul.  Next year, she will be inducted into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame.