September 04, 2000 12:00 PM

Patty Loveless (Epic)

Patty Loveless’s harder and softer personae—the sinuously bluesy country rocker and the exquisitely subtle ballad singer who displays that delicate touch—would appear to be at war on this album. The softer side wins.

The album’s selection of up-tempo songs, two of them cowritten by the dependably inventive Matraca Berg, are spirited. But they tend to make Loveless sound as if she’s trying to pull off a Wynonna impression—and a mediocre one at that. The album’s liveliest moment, somewhat ironically, comes in the deliberate, poignant “Thirsty,” a thoughtful Thorn Hardwell-Stewart Harris composition about the difficulties of slaking emotional craving.

“Thirsty” is beefed up by a resonant backing vocal by Travis Tritt, whose gritty voice contrasts effectively with Loveless’s sweeter mode. Biff Watson adds some tastefully melodic acoustic guitar backup on that track as well as throughout the album.

While it was produced—like all five previous Loveless albums—by Nashville guru Emory Gordy Jr., Strong Heart is the singer’s best-rounded, demonstrating the full spectrum of her musical talent. This is very likely to remain one of the highlights of her proud career.

Bottom Line: Beats strong and true

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