NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Patty Loveless wanted her new album to be traditional, but not too traditional.
She wanted it to be contemporary, but not too contemporary.
She wanted traditional country with an edge - only not too much of an edge.
Her album "On Your Way Home" deftly combines down-home with the crisp, punchy sound of modern country. Fiddle, mandolin and dobro flutter behind her mountain twang, while electric guitar, bass and drums set a driving rock beat.
"We mixed all these instruments, and it blended very well together," Loveless said recently over the clank of plates and glasses at a Nashville restaurant. "It didn't take away the character of the songs or the lyrics."
"On Your Way Home" is Loveless' return to contemporary country after a foray into acoustic mountain music with her last two albums, the critically praised "Mountain Soul" and the Christmas record "Bluegrass and White Snow."
The 11 new tracks were produced by her husband, Emory Gordy Jr. The first single, a Rodney Crowell song called "Lovin' All Night," is climbing the charts. Other standouts are the spunky "I Wanna Believe" and "Looking For a Heartache Like You," and the poignant "The Grandpa That I Know."
Loveless, 46, said her last two albums were inspired by her childhood in eastern Kentucky, where her father, a coal miner, was a fan of Ralph Stanley and Flatt & Scruggs. Last year on the Down from the Mountain tour, a tribute to old-time acoustic music, she says she felt "the warm smile" of her late father each time she shared the stage with Stanley.
But country music, she says, is where she belongs. "Country is what I do best. It's where I make my home and where I feel comfortable."
Loveless has the voice and life experience to sing in just about any style she chooses. Born in Pikeville, Ky., she is the sixth of John and Naomi Ramey's seven children. The family struggled. Her father was forced to leave mining at 42 because of black lung disease. He died in 1979.
"There were some houses we lived in that didn't have indoor plumbing," Loveless says. "I remember there was a time when, especially Mom, would put a blanket over the kitchen door and heat up water on the stove and pour it into a big old tin tub" to bathe.
"You know, we didn't think anything of it," she continued. "If Mom and Dad were having a hard time, they really didn't show it. Daddy never complained. I saw him come home everyday with black coal dust on his face. Trying to scrub it out of his pores was a job. He always came home with a smile on his face. I guess it was because he knew he had made it home out of those mines another day."
She often returns to the isolated mountains and hollows around Thanksgiving to deliver Christmas presents to needy children. While some things have improved, especially in the coal mines, she says, she still sees too much poverty.
Loveless was only a teenager when she came to Nashville to pursue a singing career. She attracted mentors such as Dolly Parton, Porter Wagoner and Loretta Lynn, a distant cousin. In 1976 she married Wilburn Brothers drummer Terry Lovelace and they moved to North Carolina where they performed in rock cover bands.
"For a period of about seven years there I got into doing rock and roll," she says. "The guys in the band, none of them could sing high enough to do Journey or Billy Squire, so I did 75 percent of the singing. But even when I was doing these rock clubs I would mix it up with Linda Ronstadt and Bonnie Raitt, even Patsy Cline."
She returned to Nashville in 1985 to again seek a country career. Her marriage to Lovelace dissolved that year, but she kept his name with the slight change in spelling.
After landing a recording contract with MCA, she had her first Top 10 hit in 1988 with a cover of George Jones' "If My Heart had Windows." She went on to score five No. 1 singles on MCA and Epic, including "Timber, I'm Falling" and "Blame it On Your Heart."
With her recent albums, Loveless says she's tried to capture a more authentic sound.
"That's what I want my music to be - real," she said. "The success of 'Mountain Soul' showed me there are young people out there that are in search of something that is real because we're living in a world today where images can be plastic."
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