Thankfully for country music disciples, Patty Loveless blends classic and contemporary country music seamlessly, a practice that is often used, but rarely mastered. On Sleepless Nights, she delivers a record that engages the listeners and pays tribute to the old life-and-love songs of yesterday. With husband and producer Emory Gordy, Jr. and the assistance of a number of Nashville’s first-rate musicians (among them, Nashville Sound pioneers Harold Bradley and Pig Robbins), Loveless honors these memories of misery with style and class.
Sleepless Nights is an album about paying for sins, praying for strength and staying faithful to old memories and new loves. Cheating is the choice subject for “Don’t Let Me Cross Over,” drinking is the word of the day on “There Stands the Glass” and sadness is the stuff of “Color of the Blues.” And through the course of fourteen classic cuts, Loveless demonstrates that certain wounds are lingering, lasting and sometimes, permanent.
The album itself is a lesson in loneliness. It’s a testament to the art form of country music, warts and all. It shows how the genre, as with almost any style of music from blues to gospel to jazz, is born out of pain. It’s an emotion that is part of the deep roots of music, and this pain takes on many names when directed by the voice of one of country music’s finest artists ever. As a whole, Sleepless Nights makes a fascinating case study in sadness.
A shift in how country music is approached has caused the often harsh realities of heartache and hurt to be glossed over in favor of uplifting tunes that encourage determination and denial rather than facing these fears and failings. But throughout her career, Loveless has found true connection to material that spells out such sorrowful times. While a number of country music’s classic artists have demonstrated the difficulties of hard living in their songs, it is hard loving that has caused the characters in these songs to reach the brink. That consuming, fiery feeling which is unyielding and often unreturned. And Loveless’ plaintive voice shows full awareness that love is most painful when it cannot be given equally by those that trade in it, and the sad songs here prove it.
And of course, it’s the sad songs to which she has always seemed most perfectly suited. The ballads that may be unfamiliar to many listeners are the real keepers here. Her yearning vocals on “The Pain of Loving You” (a hidden gem from Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner) gains new meaning and measure through the longing in the Loveless voice. On the most haunting track, the title cut recorded previously by the Everly Brothers and Emmylou Harris, Loveless sings of a woman in dire need of her old love. From the depths of despair, she still manages to keep faith that her broken heart will be repaired. As she wails and wonders openly to her former flame “Why did you go?” with the piercing pain in her voice, she’s complemented by a beautiful harmony vocal from Vince Gill. The Davis sisters’ “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know” is also fiercely sung (and assisted by a wonderfully melodic steel guitar), yet recognizes that the sting is a powerful thing and will have to be endured.
Throughout the album, even on the sad songs, Loveless and her supporting cast shine with enjoyment and energy. Even though Sleepless Nights treads on serious themes, the musical arrangements are not always so solemn. At times it’s the ultimate in what one could call “beautiful pain.” On the first single, “Why, Baby, Why,” a reworking of the 1955 George Jones classic, Loveless leans into the lyric with the mountainous twang that has become her trademark, and she dances the line between desperate and defiant with great ease. On this track, and other timeless tunes such as “Please Help Me, I’m Falling” and “Crazy Arms,” she fully acknowledges the marvelous delights of deep-rooted affection that have created these painful situations. The musicians assist her with poignant, yet pleasurable settings. Loveless proves that with the nuance in her voice and true insight into what makes these relationships rewarding, regardless of the pain involved. She excels at exploring the complexity in human relationships and how these ties that bind are rarely crystal clear.
On any covers collection, the natural inclination is to compare the songs with the original versions, but Loveless’ musical identity and distinctive vocal talent make the difference on Sleepless Nights. She even tackles “(S)he Thinks I Still Care”, a George Jones staple and a neat shuffle that features a swaying piano on the playing-pretend ballad. And although Webb Pierce’s version of “There Stands the Glass” is inimitable, Loveless (with a little fiddle help at just the right times) is able to make the song her own through her spirited and sprightly vocal. The subtlety and sass on display is considerable and carefully rendered. But examining this album from a song-by-song perspective would leave the message ever-elusive. Sleepless Nights, as with all great country albums, is meant to be enjoyed as a whole. And it’s best viewed as an example of the heart’s push-and-pull, and Loveless’ voice echoes with an understanding that life is fully lived because of these experiences, not in spite of them.
In previewing the album, Loveless said, “It’s a little bit of a history lesson, but I think once you hear the songs, the stories … you’re going to be drawn to it”. Although those involved with Sleepless Nights could never truly capture the sound of these old recordings (technology and time have made that impossible), they are able to capture their spirit. Loveless conjures up memories of an older era of country music, and her fresh twist on these classics feels natural, sounding like a channel to the past and a legend in the present.
Fabulous review! I think your last paragraph sums it up perfectly. I love this album! I love the warm productions and I, of course, love her vocal interpretations of the songs. Great stuff!
I second Leeann’s thoughts on the review. Boy, she would have been right at home back in that era. Her voice pierces the heart and soothes the soul at the same time. I will certainly be adding this to my collection.
Blake your observations on these timeless classics is insightful, and your assessment of Patty’s mastery of them is spot on.
As I have stated before, it really seems like Sleepless Nights will be to classic Country what Mountain Soul is to Bluegrass.
I think we have another labor-of-love masterpiece here from Patty and Emory.
-Steve from Boston.
Thanks, Blake. I am loving this and can’t stop listening. And just found out there are two bonus tracks as well and can’t wait to hear those on Tuesday. There is an ache in Patty’s voice that you can’t copy. You either have it or you don’t, and it works perfectly with these songs.
Saw / heard Patty perform a few songs off this new cd on The Opry last night.
Talk about “REAL country”! She may not get the airplay and awards and attention of her modern counterparts, but Patty Loveless endures over time and will forever be recognized as someone who kept it real and kept it country. In other words, a legend.
There are so many things I appreciate about Patty Loveless.
here is quote from Carrie Underwood that i’m sure steve will appreciate, and hopefully it can bring more attention to Patty even if it through Carrie:
“I would also like to encourage you all to go check out Patty Loveless’ new album that’s coming out on Tuesday! She is truly a country music icon whom I have always looked up to so much! I have heard the most amazing things about the new album! Recently, when I was talking about how I was excited to hear it, I was told that someone could get a copy for me early. I said no…I want to head to the store on Tuesday and buy one for myself! I can’t wait!”
Now, I really appreciate that quote from Carrie. Where’s it from?
VP, are you going to listen to Carrie’s advice?:)
found it in a country blog article and it said it was from her fan club page that she write’s on. and yes i’m going to of course check it out as i have her others already, think it is going to be a good one though. i do hope that Carrie’s comments can maybe bring some younger attention to the traditional artists it would be nice to see them get their praise for their work.
Cool. I agree.
Love Carrie’s statement. That’s wonderful.
I took today off to listen to this album all day. :)
For all the gripes we often have with mainstream country music, quite a few stars do appreciate the music’s roots. Carrie is no exception, and hopefully it will influence her in some ways.
After attending the Eddie Stubbs WSM show at the Hall of Fame last night (with Loveless as special guest), it’s easy to tell this is, in Loveless’ view, the milestone in her career. And judging from last night’s conversation with Eddie, she is far from through with the music business.
i was on one of Carrie’s fan sites recently and this comment was mentioned and quite a lot of people posted that they intended buying the album based on Carrie’s recommendation.
Good to see…
vp, we are in agreement here! Very cool thing for Carrie to say. And Carrie’s influence on her fans to give Patty a chance is a welcome development!
But conversely I am hopeful that Carrie will be open to Patty as an important influence in her growth as an artist.
Blake are you saying that Patty considers Sleepless Nights an even bigger and more important milestone/masterpiece than Mountain Soul? I am getting the sense that Patty is distancing herself somewhat from Bluegrass/Mountain Acoustic…but I hope that style and the Mountain Soul album is still very close and dear to her heart as well. I’m guessing it will always be. Still, her enthusiasm for Sleepless Nights is completely understandable and shared by all her fans. It is simply breathtaking, and sets the bar even higher for heartfelt and soulful interpretation. Patty’s career is filled with milestones, and Sleepless Nights stands with the best of them for sure.
And if Sleepless Nights is as influential on young artists as Patty and her fans hope, Yeah, I can see this as being a huge development in preserving the roots of Tradition and keeping Pure Country growing and thriving well into the future. Few have nurtured the good stuff like Patty has, and for this alone she deserves to be considered one of the Timeless ones.
Speaking of “Timeless” I remember listening to and enjoying Martina’s Timeless about a year ago, and thinking, “man, I wish Patty would do something like this, she could do it so well!” And my hopes were answered well beyond expectation.
Patty has given her fans many many exceptional Neo-Traditonal albums, an amazing Bluegrass album, a unique and inspiring Christmas album and now the incomparable collection of Classic covers Sleepless Nights. By any artist’s standards this could be considered a fullfilled career that would secure her legacy with the all time greats…
And to hear that Patty is far from through with the music business is great news indeed!
Just a sidenote, I have been watching a tape of Patty’s appearance on the Imus show from ’05, and Imus mentioned Martina’ “collection of old songs that has been topping the charts”, or words to that effect. Patty said some nice things about Martina, but there was no inkling, no visible light bulb going off that this would be something she too would like to do in the future. I thought nothing of it at the time of my first viewing. But after reviewing the tape this month it seems kinda surreal. (I was half expecting Patty to time-travel and mention Sleepless Nights, lol) It was a reminder of how fortuitous ideas can be foreshadowed, conceived and implemented in a seeming blink of an eye. Before I knew it, Sleepless Nights is here and in an honored place in my collection!
-Steve from Boston
I am so very happy to see Patty on G A C two days ago. I also am going out to buy her”sleepless nights” Lois Love you, Patty
We saw Patty last night at the Birchmere in Alex., Va last night, where we first saw her some 20 years ago as the “Honky Tonk Woman”. Trust me when I say that she has only gotten better…….and she was fantastic back then. Her voice has filled out and matured, and her presentation polished.
Certainly, one our our favorites.
While I had read about her 3 year time-off, and the reviews of “Sleepless Nights”, I went in uninspired, as
Ii’m not really into song-covers. However…………….yep…..I’m buying the album. Very……very good.
“Honky Tonk ANGEL”, Bobby. ;-)
This album reminded me a lot of Gram Parsons. “Sleepless Nights” was the title of the unreleased third album of the Flying Burrito Brothers and represents some of their best work. Gram sang the title cut with Emmylou Harris. “That’s All it Took” was another Gram staple. And the George Jones cuts are ones that Gram would love as well. Overall, a throwback album that reminded me of Parsons – from the title to the songs to the pain in the voice. Patty Loveless is excellent here and reminds us how good country music can be when it’s done right.