Patty Loveless’ music always seems to return to Kentucky even though the singer herself doesn’t make it back to the Bluegrass – or at least to Lexington concert stages – nearly often enoiugh.
Listen to her extraordinary 2008 country covers album Sleepless Nights and you get a sense of how the singer raised in Elkhorn City as a true coal miner’s daughter came to the music of Webb Pierce, Jack Greene, Kitty Wells and other mentoring recording artists as she played Louisville clubs as a youth with her brother.
Then dig into last year’s Mountain Soul II, a sequel of sorts to Loveless’ 2001 string band-savvy Mountain Soul – a record that reflected her Appalachian roots while reaching out to an Americana audience that existed outside of country radio.
But that doesn’t mean Loveless has actually been burning up Central Kentucky stages over the years. She played Rupp Arena with Vince Gill during the latter singer’s commercial heyday in the ‘90s, a period that paralleled Loveless’ own run on the country charts with hits like Blame It On Your Heart, You Can Feel Bad and Lonely Too Long. There were also frequent appearances at Renfro Valley around the time she switched major record labels from MCA to Epic.
“You know, I’ve been at this touring situation going on 23 years now,” Loveless said last week by phone prior to a Portland, Oregon performance. “I can’t remember the last time I’ve played Lexington.”
The official answer: a Rupp appearance in January 2002 as part of the Down from the Mountain Tour, the hit Americana caravan that included Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, Ralph Stanley and Buddy Miller.
But Loveless is about to become reacquainted with her Central Kentucky fans in a big way. On Thursday, she performs a program at the Kentucky Theatre of songs covering 22 years worth of recordings. Then in February 2011, Loveless will receive the big nod from her home state – induction into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame in a class that will include Keith Whitley, Steve Wariner, John Michael Montgomery, Molly O’Day, The Goins Brothers and Larnelle Harris.
“Yeah, that’s the biggie,” Loveless said. “I am so honored. And I know my brother is really proud that I’m going to become a member of the Kentucky Hall of Fame. I owe him so much. I know my whole family is very proud of this.”
Talk of sibling Roger Ramey comes up initially when conversation turns to Sleepless Nights, a record purposely reflective of the country music generation Loveless – born Patty Lee Ramey – grew up with.
“I started out performing country music at the age of 12, so some of the songs on Sleepless Nights… it’s kind of like I was performing them when I was a young girl.”
In 1971, brother Roger convinced his teenage sister to come to Nashville, where he worked for The Porter Wagoner Show. Wagoner took to young Patty’s singing enough to introduce her to his singing partner, an up-and-coming singer/songsmith by the name of Dolly Parton.
“These were the people who were trying to help and encourage me as a young girl,” Loveless said. “My brother was the one who was brave enough to push me through the doors. I was a very shy kid. My music was a way for me to come out of that shyness. It seemed my brother was one of those guys who could sell ice to the Eskimos. He wouldn’t allow anybody to say no to him.”
Stardom didn’t exactly ignite from there. A steady touring job with the Wilburn Brothers led to less glamorous gigging in the Carolinas. Marriage. Divorce. Life. It all transpired over the next decade until producer Tony Brown signed Loveless to MCA. A label switch to Sony/Epic in 1992 and a series of strong albums all produced by current husband Emory Gordy, Jr. led to Mountain Soul – and, now, Mountain Soul II.
“To me the first Mountain Soul record was special,” the singer said. “It was actually a little side project, an addition to what I was doing when I was with Sony. It turns out I had fans who wanted to hear me make such a record. Then fans requested me to do another record like it. All I could do was to call it Mountain Soul II so that people would know the content of the record. But it is a little bit different.”
Where the first Mountain Soul was exclusively acoustic, the second one employs discreet colors of electric and pedal steel guitar. And while there are echoes of the Appalachian ancestry of the earlier record, particular in Loveless’ version of the gospel nugget Working on a Building, the country music sweep of Mountain Soul II is broader.
It runs from the album opening take of Harlan Howard’s Busted – a cornerstone hit of Ray Charles’ country adventures – to the almost otherworldly treatment of Emmylou Harris’ Diamond in My Crown, which features a cameo by the divine Miss Emmy.
“What you hear there is this old pump organ that Emory’s mother had gotten for him. It’s an 1849 St. Louis pump organ – upright, of course – that he’s playing. We cut it at home. Emory is all the way downstairs playing. I’m up two floors in our studio doing my vocals. And that is all that is happening on that recording.
“Emory ended up getting Emmylou to do her part in Nashville. So that was an overdub. But the wonderful thing is that Emmy and I have worked together enough over the ears that when we hear each other sing, it’s almost like we’re in the room together.”
Patty Loveless performs at 7:30 tonight at the Kentucky Theatre, 214 E. Main. Tickets are $44.50. Call: (859) 231-7924.