Album Review: Patty Loveless – Sleepless Nights

Matt Clark | September 4th, 2008

Patty Loveless Sleepless NightsToo many cover albums fall into the comfortable paradigms of reserved, standard interpretations of oft-covered standards (Martina McBride, Timeless and recent Shanachie Records projects by Gene Watson and David Ball) and irreverent statements of artistic independence (Various Artists, Johnny Cash Remixed). Despite the proliferation of projects in these categories, most of the artistry of the cover album is to be found in the middle ground that Sleepless Nights occupies.

To its credit, Sleepless Nights is not an album of comfortable covers. It’s not that Patty Loveless herself is or sounds uncomfortable with the material she’s chosen; rather, the fact that she performs so well makes Sleepless Nights a thoroughly arresting listening experience, as Loveless lays twenty-first century gloss, if not sensibilities, on a few songs that haven’t been dusted off in quite some time. Take the album’s most uncomfortable choice, “I’ve Forgotten More Than You’ll Ever Know,” the forgotten sole hit for the (literally) short-lived Davis Sisters, which is difficult to listen to not because of Loveless’ performance but because she sings a song seldom heard outside of a vinyl record.

Even some more familiar standards are uncomfortable for interpretive reasons: “Cold, Cold Heart,” is performed pensively and plodding and with only a hint of the trademark steel guitar, and “Crazy Arms,” is taken down a notch from the Ray Price shuffle. These choices aren’t intrinsically misguided (“Cold, Cold Heart” works particularly well) but will doubtless bother some listeners and exacerbate the sole problem with Loveless’ album construction: save album opener “Why Baby Why,” Sleepless Nights is seriously deficient of up-tempo material. Two unusual choices, however, are truly great: the Osborne Brothers’ “The Pain of Loving You,” sounds made for Loveless’ mountain siren and harbors a strongly Appalachian flavor and title track “Sleepless Nights” is buoyed by Vince Gill’s stunning harmony vocal.

Loveless finds her wheelhouse on songs that are no-less classic but nonetheless haven’t achieved corner bar ubiquity. She plays the part of the conflicted woman well in “Don’t Let Me Cross Over” and “Please Help Me, I’m Falling” and accentuates the imagery of “The Color of the Blues” even if she doesn’t touch George Jones’s definitive version. Like any great country artist, she possesses the versatility to perform any one of the endless permutations on heartache, from the despair of “There Goes My Everything” to the denial of “(S)He Thinks I Still Care.” A studio ensemble that includes legends Pig Robbins and Harold Bradley preserves much of the spirit of the original recordings, even if Sleepless Nights is unlikely to be mistaken for a vintage record.

The success of these songs is equal testament to Loveless’ outstanding country voice and the timeless quality of the material she’s selected. Loveless manages to assemble a collection of classics that remain sufficiently unperformed that even standard interpretations by such a great vocalist sound refreshing and deeply satisfying. The philosophy underlying Sleepless Nights ought to provide a template for other country artists as they prepare their own cover albums.

4 Stars

4 Pings

  1. [...] Read the review of Sleepless Nights. [...]
  2. [...] Please, read album review from Country Music 9513 Julkaisupaikka [...]
  3. [...] and Webb Pierce performing the George Jones standard “Why Baby Why,” a song that Patty Loveless covered on her newest album, Sleepless [...]
  4. [...] and Webb Pierce performing the George Jones standard “Why Baby Why,” a song that Patty Loveless covered on her newest album, Sleepless [...]
  1. Jim Malec
    September 4, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    Now this is what I call a “literary-minded” review. I love the thought you put into this, Matt. I mean that as a compliment–you really made me think about this record in ways I hadn’t/wouldn’t have. Great work.

  2. Rick
    September 4, 2008 at 10:15 pm

    Just a comment regarding the old Davis Sisters song “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know”. A duet version of that song featuring 50’s rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson was one of the cuts featured on Jann Browne’s 1990 debut album “Tell Me Why”. I had never heard the song prior to purchasing that CD but it is on one of my favorite songs on that album. Wanda’s plaintive vocals really give that song an edge, in a good kind of way……

    PS – Nice review, but after reading it I doubt I would purchase something like this. The last “all covers” album by a single artist I purchased that I really enjoyed was David Bowie’s “Pin Ups” back in the mid 1970’s……

  3. leeann
    September 5, 2008 at 7:01 am

    Rick, I hope you will change your mind and give this a try. I don’t get to be the one to review it for CU, but I’ll say that I really love it! I liked Martina’s cover album, but I really love this one. Her vocals are incredible and the production captures the authenticity quite nicely.

  4. Razor X
    September 5, 2008 at 8:20 am

    I can’t wait until Tuesday so I can buy this album. I didn’t expect it to get such a glowing review, since cover albums tend to have a difficult time living up to expectations. I’m glad to hear that this one does.

    BTW, “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know” was covered by Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette on their 1993 “Honky Tonk Angels” collaboration.

  5. Brody Vercher
    September 5, 2008 at 11:28 am

    @Razor: I came across a listening party for the album on CMT this morning.

  6. Razor X
    September 5, 2008 at 11:38 am

    Thanks, Brody. I’ll definitely give that a listen when I get home.

  7. Razor X
    September 5, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    I just saw that the album is available for pre-order at iTunes. The iTunes version is DRM-free and comes with a digital booklet and two bonus tracks: “We’ll Sweep Out The Ashes” and “If Teardrops Were Pennies”.

  8. Razor X
    September 5, 2008 at 8:15 pm

    OK, I’m listening to it now and I feel like I have died and gone to Hillbilly Heaven.

  9. leeann
    September 5, 2008 at 9:03 pm

    Razor X, That’s pretty much how I felt about it.

  10. Razor X
    September 5, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    I’ve listened to it three times in a row. It’s magnificent. This has got my vote for Album of the Year.

  11. Blake Boldt
    September 8, 2008 at 4:17 pm

    My feelings on this album are much the same. The wealth of songs that may not be as familiar to the format’s fans is admirable, and although the album could use just a little more tempo, it is still a fascinating portrayal of heartache and rich, true country music.

  12. PaulaW
    September 9, 2008 at 8:17 am

    Here’s a good article in The Tennessean today:

    http://tennessean.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080909/TUNEIN/809090311

  13. Paul W Dennis
    September 13, 2008 at 8:50 am

    A terrific album. I’ve been out of town the last week and this CD is been in constant rotation in my car CD player.

    I think this is a five star effort. The album’s only flaw is that the bass is a little too prominent on several tracks, especially “Why Baby Why”, but that is more than offset by the magnificent vocals

  14. Sam
    September 14, 2008 at 8:12 am

    Anyone who is new to country should listen to this
    CD and hear some of the greatest country songs ever written and sung by I my estimation, the best
    female country singer ever.

  15. leeann Ward
    September 14, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    I liked the prominent base for some reason. I agree, it’s five stars for me too.

  16. Thomas
    September 23, 2008 at 5:31 am

    basically i don’t like covers – if you can have originals – why bother about copies?

    then again, every once in while it pays off not being too dogmatic. patty loveless’ “sleepless nights” is such an occasion. gladly, she doesn’t make these classic songs sound like “revived” classics, neither is she giving them an unfitting contemporary 21st century shine. all she does is treating the material with her own personal touch and it works out beautifully.

    nicely written review, by the way.

  17. Paul W Dennis
    September 23, 2008 at 6:08 am

    I don’t mind covers at all – in fact I think most albums would improve with the inclusion of a few covers

    Typically songs that get covered are great songs. Often original songs used as filler are mediocre endeavors designed to get some songwriter royalties. I’ve seen very few albums of ‘original material’ where all of the original material would rate at least a C+

    All of the songs on Loveless’ album are at least a B+

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