Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene Search for Meaning

Loveless relates to her music.

By Michael McCall

APRIL 27, 1998:  In an era when country music has lightened up considerably, Patty Loveless keeps recording songs of depth and weight. Through the '90s, the Kentucky native has increasingly filled her albums with solemn emotions and serious subjects. For her efforts, she hasn't just garnered a mantle full of awards, she has also gained the kind of artistic respect that will likely keep her music alive for generations to come.

She didn't take this path as a way of seeking honors, however. A few years back, when her personal life started to take a downturn, she decided to make music that banked on substance rather than on fluff. Instead of trying to please the marketplace, she worried more about pleasing her soul.

More than that, she found herself turning to music for strength. Just like some of her record buyers, Loveless took solace in song as a way of coping with traumatic personal events. If her recent albums Long Stretch of Lonesome and Trouble With the Truth lean more toward ballads of heartbreak and hopefulness rather than toward up-tempo ditties about parties and passion, it's because those songs reflect what was going on in Loveless' life at the time.

Looking back on the records, the soft-spoken singer recognizes that the material she chose to record held a deep, personal significance for her. As an example, she cites "I Don't Want to Feel Like That," one of the recent hits from the Grammy-nominated Long Stretch of Lonesome. "Tears welled up in my eyes as I listened to it for the first time," she recalls. "That song, to me, is about life. That's why I love it and why I wanted to sing it. In fact, I heard it just at the time when I needed to, because I felt a lot of what was going on in that song."

Written by Don Schlitz and Terry Radigan, "I Don't Want to Feel Like That" tells of a woman who's determined to get past the painful circumstances that have kept her crying every night. "I think I connected with the song because there were moments in the last couple of years when I felt that way," the singer says. "I was waking up a lot in the middle of the night and dealing with these feelings. I think I went through a little bit of depression. I had started talking to myself--I know this sounds weird--but I was telling myself that I had to get up off my butt and get on with life. Everybody else has to, and I told myself that I had to, too."

Loveless struggled with these lows while her career enjoyed unprecedented success. Through the mid-'90s, she has remained one of country music's most awarded singers: She was nominated for three Grammy Awards in 1998, and she has racked up numerous honors from the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music in recent years. When she accepted the 1997 ACM honor for Female Vocalist of the Year, she joined Reba McEntire and Barbara Mandrell as the only women to win the award for two consecutive years.

With honors
Patty Loveless, winning accolades while putting her heart on the line

But more than that, Loveless has kept her career alive at a time when some of her peers are starting to fall from public favor. While newcomers Shania Twain and LeAnn Rimes have broken sales records for female country artists, the 41-year-old Loveless has stood her ground. Meanwhile, other veteran singers, such as Reba McEntire and Lorrie Morgan, have seen their sales and their radio play dry up in recent years.

"In a lot of ways, I've had more success here recently than I did when I was starting out," says Loveless, who released her first album 11 years ago. "The funny thing is, I've had a harder time enjoying my success. I've gone through a lot of rough emotions."

True enough, Loveless' personal life has been wrought with devastating events: Within a period of months, her sister Dottie died at age 49 after struggling with emphysema for more than a year, and her husband, record producer Emory Gordy Jr., underwent emergency surgery for life-threatening pancreatitis. At the same time, her brother and former manager, Roger Ramey, was suffering from a serious form of liver disease. Beaten down by stress and a grueling schedule, Loveless herself ended up in the hospital, suffering from walking pneumonia in the winter of 1996-97.

"There were moments there that I felt so terrible that I had trouble going on," Loveless remembers. But she got through the hard times, she says, by listening to the words of her songs and finding inspiration in the messages of strength and perseverance. "A good song to me is like a friend," she says. "I started hearing the words to some of my songs really deeply. I found myself repeating them."

This conviction about the power of music is precisely what makes Loveless such a moving performer. "I'm not the most perfect singer out there, and I'm certainly not the most popular one," she says. "But I'm a real emotional singer--that's the special thing I have. I think people can hear that I connect with the lyrics. I feel that I express a lot of who I am in my songs."

Too often, she thinks, modern country artists spend time seeking out catchy radio songs when they should concentrate on finding songs that express real, essential thoughts and feelings. "I grew up loving the early albums by Linda Ronstadt and Bruce Springsteen," she says. "I wanted to listen to every song on the album, and I still go back and listen to them now. Those are the kinds of albums I'm trying to make."

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