Patty Loveless touches country's roots with 'Sleepless Nights'

The brick-and-stone custom-built house, which she shares with her producer/husband Emory Gordy, Jr., sits on 170 acres and is so remote that cell phones don't often work there.

"We can't get cable. Only satellite," Loveless says, smiling. Moments later, she stops in mid-sentence to watch a hummingbird feeding outside her dining room window. "I'm sorry. I love to watch the birds," she says in her soft Appalachian drawl.

The veteran country singer — whose distinctively pure alto has won her shelves full of awards and sold millions of albums — is now a full-time Georgia resident. She and Gordy, a native of Smyrna, completed the house in 2001, and moved in the night before 9/11. They sold their Nashville home two years ago.

The couple have a recording studio in the house, and sometimes bring in friends such as Bob Seger to make music (he parked his private jet at the Cartersville airport). But mostly, the move to Georgia has meant a well-earned rest for Loveless, who began singing professionally as a teenager more than three decades ago.

For personal and professional reasons, she stopped touring in 2005 and — until recently — even stopped singing, except for a few guest appearances on friends' albums.

Loveless' three-year sabbatical comes to an end with her latest album, which is being released today by Saguaro Road Records. "Sleepless Nights" features classic country songs of the 1950s, '60s and '70s, and is dedicated to her late sister, Dottie, whom she calls a mentor. A natural-born singer like Loveless can't stay away from the mike for too long.

Q: How did Dottie inspire you to become a singer?

A: I was always singing around the yard and making up songs as a little girl, growing up Pikeville, Kentucky. I remember when I was about seven, my brother was in the Army. He was stationed at Fort Knox, and we went to visit him. We were in a little place and Dottie got up and sang with the band, some Patsy Cline and Brenda Lee songs. And I was as mesmerized as those guys. I thought, "Ahhh, I get it. This is what I want to do. I want to touch people like that." She was reaching them through her voice.

Q: You were 14 when you went to Nashville to start a singing career. Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner helped you get started, and you sing one of their classic songs on your new album.

A: I remember hearing them sing "Pain of Loving You" at the Opry and other places. Sometimes Porter would ask me, "What song do you want to do?" and I'd say, "'Pain of Loving You.' Let me sing that one with you." I sang that song for his 50th anniversary at the Opry [in May 2007.] I was real honored that they called me and asked me to be a part of that.

Q: It seems like there are great stories behind all of the songs on this album. How did you decide which songs to choose?

A: Some of these songs were in the back of my head, and some I've performed before, like "Crazy Arms," and "Please Help Me I'm Falling." Emory and I started with about 500 songs. We had a lot of late-night listening sessions to narrow it down.

Q: Why did you take time off from performing and recording?

A: There was a lot going on in 2005. My mother had taken ill that year [she died in 2006], and I lost my mother-in-law, who I was very close to. "Dreamin' My Dreams" came out that year and things weren't happening with that record like I had wished. This was the time that Sony had a huge recall of CDs because they had this digital management [copy protection software that contained hidden files that could leave PCs vulnerable to viruses.]. They cleared the shelves right after we did all this promotion, around Thanksgiving, and they were not restocked until, I think, 2 or 3 days before Christmas. It affected a lot of artists. So I told my band and crew, "It's come time. I'm shutting everything down and I don't know how long it will be before I come back."

Q: You've been described as a "mountain soul singer," someone whose work is characterized by a fierce emotional honesty. Where does that come from?

A: I guess from being around people all my life. When I was playing in clubs in North Carolina, I'd get to know the person dancing on the dance floor or sitting at the bar listening. I'd hear stories. I try to pull from that experience, or from the heartaches I've experienced in my own life. A song to me is like sitting down and talking with a friend. I want people to feel that, even if we've never met, I'm a friend, I understand, I've been there. I've always been a very emotional person, and I'm a real sucker for ballads.

Q: Since you live so close, do you get to Atlanta very often?

A: Not really. It's so congested and there's so much construction going on. I like the country roads. Give me a country road to drive on.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.