With twinkling lights on the walls and Christmas cookies on the coffee table, Patty Loveless ’ vivid imagination carries her away from the Nashville recording studio, where she’s visiting with reporters, into her Kentucky childhood.
“We always opened Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve,” Loveless says. “Mama would always let us open at least one. But if we only had one, she would try to save it for Christmas Day. Most of the time, they’d just wrap empty boxes to make the Christmas tree look pretty, so it wouldn’t be so tempting to us. We’d shake the gifts and try to figure out what was in them. And sometimes when you didn’t hear any noise, you’d think, ‘Hmm, what’s going on?’ It’s not a bad idea, you know, sometimes. You can really fool a lot of kids that way!”
“We couldn’t wait for Christmas because it would snow, and Mother would always make snow cream. And I’m telling you, it’s such a different flavor to take snow and mix in a little bit of cream and vanilla flavor and sugar. It was the best!” she says. “I just miss those days, I really do. They were wonderful childhood memories for me. Nothing extravagant. But to me, it was always a big celebration in our home.”
To share her memories of Christmas as a young girl in the hills of Kentucky, Loveless has recorded her first holiday album, Bluegrass & White Snow — complete with sleigh bells, wind chimes and a train whistle. The 45-year-old singer calls it a continuation of her Mountain Soul album, which brought Loveless back to her Appalachian musical roots.
“Christmas songs are so wonderful, especially the old traditional songs like ‘Away in the Manger’ and ‘Silent Night.’ Those are songs I grew up singing and hearing my mom sing. It’s music that I’ve heard around our house forever. But there are certain songs, even Christmas songs, that I think, ‘Ahh, I don’t know if I can approach that and make it my own.’”
One such song is “Silver Bells,” a chestnut about Christmas shopping in the city — not exactly the common pastime of Loveless’ family, which included seven children raised on a coal miner’s pay.
“I love singing it and I’ve always loved the song, but for this particular record, I wasn’t for sure if it was meant to be, because I’m a mountain girl. I come from a little ol’ small town. I’m a country girl. But when I stop and think about it, Mom and Daddy, every once in a while, were able to go into Pikeville, Ky., and to me, it was a city, because it was the biggest city I’d ever gone into as a child,” Loveless says.
Vince Gill and Amy Grant lend their harmonies on “Silver Bells,” while other luminaries on Bluegrass & White Snow include Ricky Skaggs , Emmylou Harris , Trisha Yearwood , Claire Lynch , Rebecca Lynn Howard , Jon Randall and the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble. Dolly Parton joined Loveless in the studio for the album’s wintry title track.
Loveless expects to recreate the camaraderie of Bluegrass & White Snow at her home in Georgia this Christmas with her husband’s cousins who live in the area.
“Sometimes we get together with his cousins and some locals and play bluegrass music getting close to Christmas,” Loveless says. “It’s really just a wonderful feeling, and now that I’ve done this bluegrass Christmas record, it gives me an opportunity to sing with them. It’s gonna be a fun thing this year because they’re gonna be eager to jump in there and start playing. The chimes are at home, and I did take the whistle with me, and the bells, and now I get to play all that.”
Loveless concludes, “Music is just a wonderful thing to share. If you can’t give any other gift, the gift of music is a wonderful thing. It does something for the soul, and it does something for our heart. There’s something very warming about turning on the radio when you’re in your car, or going shopping and hearing a Christmas song. All of a sudden, it turns the lights on within you. This Christmas record definitely has turned my lights on this year.”