100 Greatest Women
“I’m a combination of Linda Ronstadt, Loretta Lynn and Ralph Stanley.” – Patty Loveless, 1989
Patty Loveless may be the last of the great mountain singers who will ever find mainstream country success, but there has always been a country-rock undercurrent to her material. Beloved by fans of pure country music, her work is deeply rooted in the mountain sounds of her native Kentucky, but her years singing rock music carried over into the studio, making her something of a progressive traditionalist.
She was raised in Belcher Holler, a small Kentucky town where her father was a coal miner. He was struck by black lung disease, and the family moved to Louisville seeking medical care. Her older siblings Dotty and Roger performed in a country act they dubbed The Swingin’ Rameys, and when Dotty quit the band to get married, Roger coaxed Patty into taking her place. After earning $5 for her first performance, and loving the applause, she continued performing with her brother.
Roger’s love for country music led him to Nashville, where he became a producer for The Porter Wagoner Show. He cajoled Wagoner into listening to his sister Patty sing, and the high school girl sang her composition “Sounds of Loneliness” for the superstar. Wagoner was blown away, and vowed to help her break into the industry. He encouraged her to go back and finish school, but took her out with him on the road on weekends.
100 Greatest Women
She has a restless musical spirit, recording so many different styles successfully that no genre can fully claim her as their own. But it is her country recordings that have had the most lasting impact, and her seminal seventies work permanently changed the female approach to country music.
She got her start in the country-rock scene of Los Angeles in the sixties, and she quickly became adept at fusing classic country with elements of the rock music of the day. With a handful of fellow musicians, she fronted The Stone Poneys. The band became a big hit on West Coast country and folk circuits, and the exposure earned them a recording contract. Their first album in 1967 didn’t go anywhere, but their second album featured “Different Drum”, a song clearly intended for a man to sing but in Ronstadt’s hands became an anthem for female liberation (“I’m not ready for any person, place or thing to try and pull the reins in on me.”)
When “Different Drum” became a pop hit in 1968, it was Ronstadt’s voice that garnered most of the attention. After the group released three albums, they disbanded, and Ronstadt went solo. She had a clear musical vision from the start. Her early albums reveled in traditional country music, featuring classics like “I Fall to Pieces,” “Lovesick Blues” and “Mental Revenge.” She added fuzzy guitar to her first recording of “Silver Threads and Golden Needles.” But she drew on other genres as well, covering R&B and gospel songs alongside the country songs she tackled.
I spend a good chunk of my salary on music, and it seems wasteful not to pass it on when I’ve made a particularly worthy purchase. Here are some recent purchases that I think are worth your money, too:
An album written in the aftermath of the death of her father, stepmother and stepsister, followed by the death of her mother as the album neared completion? The expecations are bound to be unreasonable. Somehow, Cash exceeds them anyway. This is a strikingly intimate, insightful and ultimately uplifting record that should be necessary listening for processing grief. The inherent wisdom in a song like “God Is In The Roses”, which follows the title by adding “God is in the roses and the thorns”, is just one poetic example of Cash’s writing on this project, which features some of the best songs she’s ever written. I can’t help but wonder if her stepsister Carlene Carter will also use her brilliant talent to process these events. Johnny & June were such significant figures in American culture, especially for country music fans; it’s a beautiful thing that Rosanne has used her own grief to help us process the loss we feel with their absence from the stage.
The Best of Linda Ronstadt: The Capitol Years
I realize that I’ve been threatening to do a long reissues post for months now, and I will do it, but releases like this help me reveal my philosophy about these things a little at a time. Here’s the conceit behind this 2-CD set: all four of Ronstadt’s Capitol albums, two of which had fallen out of print, collected together, digitally remastered with five unreleased tracks from the same era. Boom! With two CD’s for twenty bucks, you get everything there is to have from the developing years of one of the most important female artists in the history of country music. This is what labels need to do for the artists of that era, where two albums easily fit on one CD. Capitol is wisely doing the same for Merle Haggard, releasing ten of his classic albums on five CD’s next month. Carlene Carter and Rodney Crowell found their nearly-forgotten early work suddenly back in print by a similar approach last year. I can only hope other labels start doing the same thing. It is criminal that any work by Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris or Waylon Jennings remains out-of-print. And I still can’t figure out why almost all of the Olivia Newton-John albums available on CD are the ones nobody bought in the first place, while her platinum-sellers can only be bought via import. Silliness, don’t you think?