Fighting for the Soul of Country

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Patty Loveless, a traditional country singer, operates outside the system. It allows her to talk openly.

“It’s becoming more pop,” Loveless, 51, said about country, a genre many think has left the dusty back roads for good.

“I don’t want to see country music lose its identity. And that is the music I came up with.

“I just don’t want to see the youth of today or tomorrow not to be able to experience the music of the past. It’s their heritage.”

At least Loveless, who in early September released “Souless Nights,” a record steeped in country soul, is doing her part. She will perform two shows Saturday at the Newberry Opera House.

Country music was a large part of Loveless’ family life growing up in Kentucky. Her brother’s collection of 45s included Webb Pierce and George Jones.

While her mother did housework, they would listen to the radio together.

“She used to love to mop the floors — well, she didn’t love to — but she loved to listen to the Opry,” Loveless said. “We’d listen to the Opry while I was watching her mop the floors.”

And her father was a fan of bluegrass performers such as Molly O’Day, Bill Monroe and The Stanley Brothers, singers Loveless would draw on for a career lane change.

“I understand why (my dad) loved them so much,” she said. “There’s so much soul within those records.”

It always goes back to soul with Loveless, so this question had to be asked: Has country music lost its soul?

“I think (Nashville labels and country performers) were trying to attract a lot of the younger audience, for the fact that a lot of our audience from the ’80s and ’90s were getting older,” Loveless said.

“The labels were trying to put out what works.”

What works is country with a side of pop, more glitz and glamour than vocal strength.

In the early ’90s, Loveless was a hit-making singer. Albums such as “Only What I Feel,” “When Fallen Angels Fly” and “The Trouble With Truth” contained numerous radio hits, and 1994’s “When Angels Fly” won the CMA album of the year award.

Then singers like Loveless, who describes her sound as traditional country with an edge, were pushed aside for more bubbly voices like Faith Hill.

So in 2001, Loveless released “Mountain Soul,” a gorgeous and pastoral bluegrass record.

“Maybe it was fate, because growing up with my dad and listening to that music, I absorbed it all,” she said.

“Once we played Ralph’s festival (that would be Ralph Stanley of The Stanley Brothers), we had to get it out of our system.”

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