For Patty Loveless, It's More Torch, Less Twang

Rested and ready to rock, country hitmaker returns with edgy new release.

NASHVILLEGarth's doing it; so are Vince and Shania. Emmylou tried to do it but couldn't. And Patty Loveless says she's not only done it, but she'd do it again.

We're talking about taking a hiatus. As more of Nashville's big names opt to devote some well-earned downtime to their families and personal lives, they are returning to their careers with a fresh, creative approach to accompany their renewed resolve.

Loveless is a case in point. Set to return Aug. 27 with Strong Heart, her first release of all new material since 1997's Long Stretch of Lonesome, Loveless displays a new edginess that she calls "free spirit."

"It's music for people that are strong-willed and passionate and very young at heart," Loveless said. "People that get it about life, know what life has to offer them and know what they want!"

Loveless hesitates to say that Strong Heart takes a more rock 'n' roll approach, noting that two of her biggest hits, "I'm That Kind of Girl" (RealAudio excerpt) and "I Try To Think About Elvis," rocked as much as they twanged. But like Trisha Yearwood's Real Live Woman, Loveless' Strong Heart eschews the highly polished pop country dominating today's airwaves and instead carves a fresh path steeped in the traditions of blues, bluegrass and rock.

The new direction is especially evident on such songs as the torch-blues number "You Don't Get No More," which Loveless co-wrote with husband/producer Emory Gordy Jr.

"That song has a swampy sound to it; the slide guitar gives it a real greasy feel," she said. "A lot of the music I've been making for years has had slide guitar, but more and more we've been finding material that complements the instrument of the steel, as well. The two can go well together.

"Sometimes I get a little bit nervous when somebody says it's a little more of a rock sound," Loveless continued. "The deal is that I believe it's a little edgier sounding. I've always tried to stay true to what I'm about, and I feel I continue to do that on this album."

If there's one word that sums up Strong Heart, it's collaboration. Loveless and Gordy tapped an impressive talent pool of friends to help out: Yearwood's backing vocals can be heard on "My Heart Will Never Break This Way Again"; Steve Earle's harmonica playing is showcased on "You're So Cool," and Travis Tritt joins in on "Thirsty."

Loveless credits her hiatus for giving her the rejuvenation evident throughout Strong Heart. Loveless took the measure after a string of traumas left her feeling drained — and worried that her performance was suffering as a result.

"I had been through so much from '95 to '98 in my personal life, and it was taking a toll on me musically," she said. "I was beginning to lose my heart in it, and I was afraid to show how I truly felt."

Loveless is referring to the 1995 near-fatal liver illness of her brother Roger; the 1996 death of her sister Dottie, who succumbed to emphysema; and the potentially fatal bout of pancreatitis that hit her husband, Gordy.

"I was beginning to feel guilty about being on the road so much and being away from my family, the people who really needed me," Loveless said. "I thought, 'God, I may never have another chance to be with them!' I felt it was time to slow down, review the last 11 years and rejuvenate myself, make myself want to be out there.

"It got to the point where the audience were the only ones keeping me going," she said. "And when I'd go out there, there was so much hurt there, I would be afraid to express what was going on deep down inside, and I was feeling I was losing my communication with them."

Now that she's back, Loveless has a word of advice to anyone who's "hitting it really hard" in their work life: "Take time to slow down, because you need to. There's nothing more important than your family."