By John Gerome
Her new CD is called ‘Sleepless Nights.’
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Starting in 2005, life took a hairpin turn for Patty Loveless.
She lost her mother-in-law, her brother had a stroke, and, when it seemed things couldn’t get much worse, her mom died.
She wound up taking a three-year break from music.
“I was trying to heal,” Loveless says softly from the back of a dim, empty theater at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. “And I have to say that I thought maybe my time had come to put myself out in the pasture.”
But at home in Cartersville, Ga., she began listening to lots of old records, stuff she’d heard growing up with her family in eastern Kentucky.
The music gave her comfort and it gave her spark, and before long, Loveless and her husband, producer Emory Gordy Jr., were working on an album of country standards.
The disc, “Sleepless Nights,” came out Tuesday. It features Loveless’ crystalline voice on classics by George Jones, Ray Price, Webb Pierce, Hank Locklin, Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, the Everly Brothers, Hank Williams, Conway Twitty, Skeeter Davis and Jack Greene.
“Us sitting here at this museum, at the Country Music Hall of Fame ... it’s our heritage, and to pass that on, to be able to do music that is appreciated ... I want them to appreciate it and have respect for those that have passed on or who are still here who we may lose, because you never know when they may be taken out of our lives,” the 51-year-old singer said.
She and Gordy culled the 14 cuts from a list of 500 songs.
It wasn’t easy.
“We have a guesthouse, like a cabin, to get away from the phones. There’s no TV or nothing at this place. We’d go up there and listen,” she said. “We’d each give the songs numbers and rate them and compare, and little by little we whittled away.”
In the studio, they used microphones from the ’30s and ’40s and hired veteran musicians such as Harold Bradley and Hargus “Pig” Robbins, who’d played on some of the original recording sessions.
At one point, when she couldn’t remember specifics about a particular microphone, she promised to get the information. A few days later, an e-mail from Gordy arrived filled with technical and historical background. But at the end, Gordy concluded: “P.S. ... I really don’t think the sound of Patty’s ‘Sleepless Nights’ had anything to do with the equipment. ... I think it was mostly ‘attitude.’”
The vintage material fits Loveless well. Though she’s had contemporary hits, her bedrock is traditional country. She’s sung with Wagoner, Jones, Parton, Ralph Stanley, Loretta Lynn and many more during her career.
As she strolled through the Hall of Fame recently, she passed a sign for an exhibit on ’50s star Kitty Wells.
“I got to sing a song called ‘Once More’ with Kitty and Loretta Lynn for a TV show. I’m so glad I got to be part of that,” she said.
Loveless was born in Pikeville, Ky. She was the sixth of seven children. Her father, a coal miner, suffered from black lung disease and died in 1979.
She came to Nashville in the early ’70s and joined the Wilburn Brothers as their featured female singer (a post once held by Lynn, a distant cousin).
She signed with MCA in 1985 and had five No. 1 singles on MCA and Epic, including “Timber, I’m Falling in Love” and “Blame it on Your Heart,” before her commercial streak waned.
Today, her Appalachian alto remains sharp and expressive. When she joins Stanley for an old mountain ballad such as “Pretty Polly,” it sounds as though she’s just stepped from a Kentucky hollow.
“I like the honesty of her voice, the purity of it,” said friend Vince Gill, who sings with her on the new album. “It’s distinctive, and the blend of our two voices is unique. That doesn’t always happen. You can sing with everybody but it’s not always the blend of all blends, and hers to me is reminiscent of what George and Tammy and Conway and Loretta had together.”