In Her First Ryman Concert, Patti Page Debuts New Album, Sings Her Classics

Only a small fraction of Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium was filled for Patti Page’s album release concert Sunday night (May 7). But to the few hundred graying faithful assembled for the debut, this didn’t matter. They had come not just to bask in the hits of their distant youth but to recall a time when lyrically expressed emotions were nuanced rather than strident and when songs presented love more as an alluring mystery than as a variety of psychological affliction.

In a show that lasted two hours, “The Singing Rage” gracefully fulfilled all these expectations. It was the first time that the 72-year-old Page had headlined a concert at the Ryman, even though she had established a local identity 50 years earlier through her classic recording of “The Tennessee Waltz.”

Page’s new album, Brand New Tennessee Waltz, was recorded in Nashville and produced by Jon Vezner for Page’s own C.A.F. Records. Consisting mostly of new and familiar country tunes, it features accompanying vocals by Emmylou Harris, Trisha Yearwood, Alison Krauss, Suzy Bogguss, Kathy Mattea and Jesse Winchester, the writer of the title cut.

Among the famous faces in the crowd were Harris, Oak Ridge Boy Duane Allen and his wife, Grand Ole Opry singer Norah Lee Allen and Radney Foster.

Still in excellent voice, Page was backed by a nine-piece band and three harmony singers (one of them Victoria Shaw, who served as executive producer of the album). She began the performance with “The Person Who Used to Be Me,” good-humoredly contrasting her present self with black-and-white images of a much younger Page projected on a screen behind her. That was about as nostalgic as she got. Her specialty lay in illustrating the timelessness of her music.

Besides singing all 11 selections on the new album (which includes a remake of “The Tennessee Waltz”), Page did two songs she had recorded with Duke Ellington, “In My Solitude” and “Sophisticated Lady.” Other standouts were “Gentle on My Mind,” “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” “Go on Home” (a country hit in 1962 and one of her first recordings done in Nashville), “Except for Monday,” “The More I See You” and “A Foggy Day in London Town.”

Concluding the first half of her set with “Unchained Melody,” she traced her love affair with the song from Al Hibbler’s initial recording of it in 1955 through later hit versions by the Righteous Brothers and LeAnn Rimes. “I still like singing it,” she proclaimed and straightaway demonstrated that there are feelings still to be wrung from this never-quite-oldie.

To crown the evening, Page offered a fluid medley of the songs she made or helped make standards — “With My Eyes Wide Open I’m Dreaming,” “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window,” “Old Cape Cod,” “You Belong to Me,” “Allegheny Moon,” “Changing Partners,” “I Went To Your Wedding,” “Detour,” “Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte” (“Bet you thought Bette Davis did this,” she joked), “Mocking Bird Hill” and “Cross Over the Bridge.” Early in the medley, she walked down into the first few rows to touch and shake hands with clearly adoring fans.

Predictably, Page ended the show with “The Tennessee Waltz,” her voice cracking with emotion just a few lines in. Slowly regaining her composure, the tearful singer smiled out at the cheering crowd and said, “See what you made me do.”

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.