Patty Loveless Still Working Away

Who needs catering when you’ve got home cooking in Watertown, Tenn.?

“It was almost like a little school dance,” says Patty Loveless, who filmed the clip “Lovin’ All Night” in a schoolhouse in the small town east of Nashville. “Everybody just got together and the people in the video even brought their own food. I mean, they brought extra food for everybody, and these women were cooking out there in the kitchen, just working away.”

Of course, Loveless knows a work ethic when she sees one. A chart presence for 15 years now, the Kentucky native stays true to her roots with the new album On Your Way Home.

“This is the first record I’ve ever done that doesn’t have an acoustic piano, doesn’t have keyboards, doesn’t have strings, synthesizers, nothing like that,” she says. “What you hear is a blend of the instruments — mandolin and fiddle and banjo and electric guitar and Dobro, electric bass and drums. It just all blends very well together. And I think for the most part, the Mountain Soul record had a major influence on that, but I think it led me to be fearless of doing music that I want to do.”

Ah yes, Mountain Soul. Just the mention of it makes Loveless’ fans weak in the knees.

After stumbling with a Shania-like single in 1999 (“Can’t Get Enough”) and a 2000 album that didn’t exactly earn critical raves (Strong Heart), Loveless surprised everybody with the stunning acoustic album Mountain Soul. It topped nearly every country critic’s poll in 2001 and earned her a spot on the Down From the Mountain tour, alongside musical pioneers Ralph Stanley, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss and the Del McCoury Band. She hosted the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) awards with Ricky Skaggs in 2002 and released a brilliant holiday album, Bluegrass & White Snow, later that year.

“It’s not like I ever left country music,” says Loveless, 46. “All my previous records that I’ve done, the more contemporary country, I had always done songs [with] that feel or that influence. Even a very, very, very early album Honky Tonk Angel was a mixture of country, but I did ‘I’ll Never Get Tired of You,’ which was a Stanley Brothers tune.”

She adds, “I think people get confused here about some of the music that I’ve done. I’ve always been country. It’s just that I started stripping it down a little bit more for Mountain Soul.”

Because it’s not a bluegrass album, On Your Way Home might best be compared to her 1997 album Long Stretch of Lonesome. The up-tempo songs are solid, but the slow ones could just about kill you. The title track, written by Matraca Berg and Ronnie Samoset, reveals the contempt that comes from being cheated on: “If you keep lying to me, I might stay right here, just to spite you.” Concluding the album, “The Grandpa That I Know” explores how you really feel at a funeral, not just the way you’re supposed to.

“I think as we get older, there are a lot of things we begin to accept,” she says. “When you stop and think about a kid, when they look at death, I think they look at it like they’re just going away, and that’s a very good way to look at it. … That’s what helps me to accept loved ones that I have lost, and my grandparents and my sister and many others that have been very, very dear friends that have been very dear and close to me.”

Although few of today’s singers can sell a ballad like Loveless, “Lovin’ All Night” — a Top 10 hit for Rodney Crowell in 1992 — proves she can tear it up when necessary, too. It’s that diversity that has kept her a popular draw on the road, whether it’s a country bar, a state fair or a bluegrass festival.

“I’m still mixing it up quite a bit,” she says. “The music to me is what it’s all about. … I’m not a lot of flash. I’m really none of that. I think I’m an artist before I’m an entertainer. The music is what I find entertaining.”