What We Talk About When We Talk About Patty Loveless

Patty Loveless had the misfortune of ending up on the same record label as Reba McEntire and newcomer Trisha Yearwood during her heyday. Unwilling or unable to engage in the multimedia juggernauts both artists launched, Loveless has become something of an insider’s favorite for country fans. Album for album, her work is stronger and more cohesive than that of either McEntire or Yearwood—or any of the ’90s artists who received more airplay than she did.

Blessed with a rich, dark voice, Loveless can make the syrupy Nashville ballads that were the bread and butter of the era sound like cries from the heart. You know the songs. “How Can I Help You to Say Goodbye,” in which the singer says farewell, in successive verses, to her childhood best friend, her husband, and, finally, her mother. “You Don’t Even Know Who I Am,” in which a man, confronted by his neglected wife, realizes that she doesn’t know who he is, either. Then there are the character studies like “Ships” and Lucinda Williams’ “The Night’s Too Long,” filled with songwriting details like “She’s holding a Corona and it’s cold against her hand.”

Loveless’ best songs, though, are the heartbroken rockers. Even when the tempo is slow, she can build to a cathartic climax. My favorite Loveless song may be “You Can feel Bad If It Makes You Feel Better,” when she tells her departing boyfriend that she won’t be wandering around in his old sweaters, then admits when she runs into him out and about that the tears she’s crying aren’t falling on his shoulders, so he should just leave her the hell alone. But “Here I Am” has maybe the best bridge in Loveless’ career. She’s been telling an ex that, though he keeps looking for her at the bottom of every glass of whiskey, she’s right there. The bridge, which builds to a tingly climax, has Loveless belting, “Honey, I got over you passing me over a long time ago. And my pride was stronger when I was younger, now I’d rather have you to know. That here I am.”

If you’re interested in investigating for yourself, we cannot recommend The Trouble with the Truth enough. That album has gotten us through multiple breakups and bittersweet one-night stands, days in blizzards and summer scorchers. It may be her most perfect album, and is safely ensconced in our personal top five of all time.

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