In the last three years, country singer Patty Loveless faced two major obstacles that might have killed her career — being on the same label as country superstars Reba McEntire, Wynonna Judd, and Trisha Yearwood and a leaky blood vessel on her vocal cords that affected her range and control.
Instead of ruination, however, after a label change and surgery last October, Loveless has rebounded with a milestone album, Only What I Feel. The record rivals the best work of her seminal influences, Loretta Lynn and Emmylou Harris, with both its stunningly good program and the restored power and character shadings of Loveless’ authentically rural voice.
Loveless reaches her artistic zenith on the soul-rattling ballads ”What’s a Broken Heart” and the enormously involving ”How Can I Help You Say Goodbye.” Known best for a stylistic mix of traditional and progressive country and the resonant emotional readings of her material, she excels at songs that pinpoint moments of naked truth — usually with everything at stake — and the purging of emotional pain, especially in the quest for lasting love. As in ”You Will,” this album’s edgy, rhythmic equivalent of ”Jealous Bone,” in which she warns a straying lover against falling for a pathologically cruel woman who’d seduce him after months of flirtation, only to drop him the next day.
More than anything, Loveless is concerned with songs that foster understanding between the sexes. In an age when many female country singers build a career on male bashing, Loveless increasingly proves the value of musical integrity — and passionate dignity. A+