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4 minute read
Richard Corliss

LOVELESS. RIGHT THERE IN THE name is some significant country poetry–the kind that, around 3 a.m. at the lonesome end of an Ozark bar, acquires the artless profundity of a cry for help. Patty Loveless started life as Patty Ramey, married drummer Terry Lovelace and later modified the surname. It turned out Loveless perfectly fit her musical taste. Her songs catalog every sin a man can commit, every pain a woman can bear. If you turn on the radio and hear a strong heart breaking, chances are it’s the one in that plangent Loveless voice.

That might not seem unique in a genre that tries to put a pang in every twang. It’s true: misery loves country. But Loveless has a purity, a disdain for emotional compromise, that sets her above the standard ingratiators. Since her early hits (Jealous Bone, I’m That Kind of Girl), her voice and choice of material have matured; she’s grown up in public. Another coal miner’s daughter, Patty is a cousin of Loretta Lynn’s–like about half of the singing South. But her true musical kin is Tammy Wynette, country’s calamity queen. Like her, Patty sings the truth and serves it up raw.

So it makes sense that her gorgeous, pulverizing new CD is called The Trouble with the Truth (Epic Nashville). And what is the trouble? As the title song, by Gary Nicholson, tells us: “It has ruined the taste of the sweetest lies,/Burned through my best alibis.” The way Loveless sings it, the truth ain’t pretty, but it sounds as golden as the Gospel.

Producer Emory Gordy Jr. (her current husband) wraps Loveless around 10 prime laments that express the aftershock of betrayal, in musical settings that range from up-tempo to hillbilly solemn. The opener, Richard Thompson’s Tear-Stained Letter, has a perky Cajun feel, with fiddles and steel guitar establishing a pace Richard Petty would find hard to match. Yet the song is about the inflicting of some pretty serious domestic abuse–“He danced on my head like Arthur Murray,/The scars ain’t never gonna mend in a hurry”–by a guy who then decides he wants to be taken back.

What’s a Loveless woman to do? Simple: stare back at the man who done her wrong and give him caustic advice. The album’s first single, a cool Matraca Berg easy-rockin’ plaint, says it tartly: “You can feel bad if it makes you feel better.” That’s the ’90s cad for you. He’ll take a little short-term guilt–and instant absolution from the woman he’s left in the dust.

Some songs play like wrenching testimony given by a member of Humans Anonymous. In the devastating A Thousand Times a Day (another Nicholson ballad, this one written with Gary Burr), the speaker proclaims that she’s given up cigarettes and booze. “Those were tough, this is easy,/And it feels so good to say,/ Forgetting you is not that hard to do,/I’ve done it a thousand times a day.” Loveless performs the number at dirge tempo–if it were any slower it would be going backward–dramatizing all the dread resolve and the lingering uncertainty in saying no to a bad habit. Denial is easy; refusal is hard. And the song is great.

The set ends with Tony Arata’s poignant, hymnlike Someday I Will Lead the Parade. The “someday” is, of course, after death. But Loveless doesn’t have to wait that long. She already leads the parade of country’s lost souls and lonesome cowgirls. She keeps them in step, hearts heavy, heads high, singing all the way to the brink.

–By Richard Corliss

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