Patty Loveless, <em>When Fallen Angels Fly</em>

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August 26, 2008

Patty Loveless
When Fallen Angels Fly

Patty Loveless returned from potentially career-ending throat surgery with the soulful Only What I Feel in 1993. Its follow-up album When Fallen Angels Fly, is a wonderfully-rendered collection that mastered the art of traditional country music with a contemporary edge. The emotions range from feisty to fragile and the tremendous vocal work of Loveless, combined with the brilliant musical stylings of husband-producer Emory Gordy Jr., make for one of Nashville’s proudest moments of the ‘90s.

The pair revitalize old sounds with their own brand of fiddle-and-steel barn-burners and slow-burning soulful ballads. Although the album fits well within the template of the mainstream format, it never compromises in its mission to keep alive the traditions of all that came before. Gordy, Jr.’s production is understated throughout, only in service of the song, providing just the right amount of country class. The steel guitar weeps gently, the drums keep a constant rhythm without overpowering, and of course, Loveless sings with a miles-deep alto that instills real meaning into each song, ballad or bouncing rocker.

Loveless can be lively, as shown on the Jim Lauderdale ditty, “Halfway Down.” And she also turns in a fun performance on the set’s first single, “I Try to Think About Elvis,” a comical look at new love’s powerful ways. But it’s the ballads that mark her greatest achievements. The centerpiece of the album is the ultimate in torch ballads, Tony Arata’s “Here I Am,” a tale of unreq

uited love told beautifully by the aching vocal of Loveless. Once she reaches the final chorus and confesses her undying devotion to the man who’s done her wrong, she’s as vulnerable as ever. The heartache is palpable, and very few country artists can put across this depth of emotion in such an stark manner.

Another devastating ballad, “You Don’t Even Know Who I Am” comes from the pen of award-winning Gretchen Peters, and Loveless gives it a delicate reading. As a marriage unravels, both parties are feeling neglected and unneeded, and Loveless works her magic so that the listener would have a hard time taking sides between husband and wife. This same sympathetic treatment is put to good use on the other Peters contribution, the looking-for-love anthem “Ships.”

Admissions of weakness mark both the first and the final moments of this stellar collection. On the first track, “A Handful of Dust,” she acknowledges that without love, our worth is insignificant. And by the end, “Over My Shoulder,” a truthful acknowledgment of pain and the promise of a new day, Loveless wails with the knowledge that she owns no control over the pure torture of a broken heart. However, she also sees a redeeming light that’s “Heaven’s way” of saying she can let the past die.

That fact is the greatest lesson of When Fallen Angels Fly. It’s accentuated on the title track (Billy Joe Shaver’s creation), by a chorus so poetic that it’s perfect.

God will save His fallen angels
And their broken wings He'll mend
When He draws their hearts together
And they learn to love again
All their sins will be forgiven
In the twinkle of an eye
All the saints rejoice in heaven
When the fallen angels fly

The characters in these songs may struggle, strive in vain and stay haunted by old dreams and new desires, but the compassion and kindness in Loveless’ voice are a heart-wrenching, yet hopeful remedy. She has earned her place as a true ambassador of country music’s heart, both past and present.

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  1. Philly JeffNo Gravatar says:

    Half a star is missing.

  2. MarcNo Gravatar says:

    Yeah, where’s that last half star? One of the few albums in my collection I would say are must haves..

    The worst part of this CD is “Elvis”, so maybe I can see a halfpoint. It can get to be as annoying as album blemishes like Shania’s “Feel Like a Woman”.

  3. RainbowNo Gravatar says:

    I’m lovin’ the retro album series. May I suggest reviewing Reba’s “Whoever’s In New England” or “What Am I Gonna Do About You.

  4. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    This is a wonderful album! This is one of my favorites by her, but there are a couple that I feel are equal as well.

  5. This is my favorite Patty Loveless album, and one of the few albums by any artist that I enjoy listening to from start to finish.

  6. Blake BoldtNo Gravatar says:

    Just as an FYI, I am fairly conservative in terms of ratings. Five stars is a hard road to take!

    Although I believe Patty is tongue-in-cheek on “Elvis” (she herself has said in interviews that it’s pure novelty), and the song itself is just good, clean fun, it does not quite fit together with the rest of the album. It’s my only (small) complaint about an excellent disc.

  7. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    I rarely listen to an entire album all the way through except for when I first purchase it, of course. I usually listen and then rip what I like from the album onto my external hard drive. Then I usually listen to my music on shuffle unless I get into the mood for a particular artist. Each Patty album is represented, but according to my hard drive, I guess my favorite Loveless album is On Your Way Home, because I have the most tracks ripped from that album at ten songs and only seven tracks ripped from this album. I’ll have to check to see what I’ve ommitted.

  8. John LNo Gravatar says:

    An excellent review, Blake,just outstanding. I will make a case for Elvis. When it was released as a single I thought it was cute and bouncy and I liked the video too. I bought the album and I could not believe the depth of the performances throughout. I was spellbound and have been ever since by the music of Patty and Emory.So yes, it may be a novelty song but through its release it turned me into a lifelong fan of Patty’s music.

  9. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar says:

    This was an excellent album. I’m not sure I can say I have a favorite Patty Loveless album since I like a good many of them, but this is in the top two or three

  10. J.R. JourneyNo Gravatar says:

    Great feature, Blake. I’ve been gone for almost a week myself and was elated to sign back onto my favorite site to find a new feature ‘Retro Album Reviews’. What a great idea and so very educational at the same time. I hope to see more of these in the weeks to come. Great album to start this feature too. I am loving this site more and more every time I log on … keep it up, guys and gals ….

  11. Steve F.No Gravatar says:

    EXCELLENT review Blake! Redemption is a consistent theme in Patty’s work, and this album exemplifies that in an extraordinary way. I agree, the chorus to the title cut is sheer poetry.

    I think “Elvis” provides the right balance of levity, and even here, Patty’s high standard of excellence is maintained.

    I also love the fact that Patty tries to make music that both men and women can relate to. Male bashing is always kept to a minimum, as evidenced in the even handed perspectives in “You Don’t Even Know Who I Am” Patty’s music most often encourages understanding and acceptance, if not actual reconciliation.

    This album certainly deserved album of the year, but MANY of Patty’s albums are just as excellent. The Trouble With the Truth for one..

    But my favorites so far, are MOUNTAIN SOUL, ON YOUR WAY HOME, and DREAMIN MY DREAMS.

    I’m betting SLEEPLESS NIGHTS will soon join my list of favorites.

    But ANGELS will always be amoung them as well.

    -Steve from Boston

  12. Love this album so much. I like every song for very different reasons. I’m so happy the CMAs recognized her for this work.

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