GEORGIA ON HER MIND

Patty Loveless heads for the country to find home

This is my final home," declares Patty Loveless. "I've told everybody I'm gonna live here, die here ... and come back and haunt the place!"

The home Patty is so determined to stick around in is her new house in Dallas, Ga., about 35 miles northwest of Atlanta. Moving here is a declaration of independence from Nashville's endless obsession with the music business -- and though Patty still owns a condominium in Music City, she's considering selling it.

Meanwhile, her new property offers 150 acres where she can find privacy with her husband and producer, Emory Gordy Jr.

"It's up against 8,000 acres of wildlife management, so it's very secluded -- very, very secluded," she notes. "It's just wonderful. It has a creek running through it, and we're getting ready to build a pond. And we've got a studio!"

Patty threw herself into fixing up her new property after she got off the road last November, but now she's in the middle of recording her first Christmas album, which should be released this fall. And in February, she began working on a new album, the follow-up to last year's critically hailed Mountain Soul.

That album was a turning point for Patty -- a return to the bluegrass music of her youth. It also made her a natural addition to the recent Down From The Mountain tour, which celebrated the traditional music of the Grammy-winning O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack.

When asked to join the tour, says Patty, "I was just a little bit hesitant. But when I found out that Emmylou Harris was gonna be out here, and Alison Krauss, and, of course, Ralph Stanley, I thought, 'Well, this sounds like it could be really good.' "

When Patty, Emmylou and Alison teamed for an a cappella performance, it emerged as one of the highlights of the show. But sharing time with one of her heroes turned out to be the real joy for Patty.

"Emmylou Harris, I just love being around her," beams Patty. "She's probably the dearest and sweetest person I've ever met, and for part of the tour, she and I were sharing a bus together. We just love being around each other."

Even before the tour, Patty had already crossed paths with the O Brother phenomenon. She had coincidentally recorded her own version of the movie's hit "I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow" on Mountain Soul, and of course, she'd seen the movie.

"I like George Clooney," she explains with a smile. "I think he's very nice -- my husband wouldn't mind me saying that!"

Patty, who hails from the coal mining community of Pikeville, Ky., was at first skeptical about how the movie -- set in the Depression-era South -- would portray rural people.

"I've had family members that would go, 'They're always trying to make us look like dumb hillbillies,' " she says. "Even The Beverly Hillbillies, I could see the humor there, but some of them weren't too turned on by it. But for the most part, the ones who've seen O Brother have enjoyed it."

In fact, the O Brother soundtrack has brought new respect to American roots music. That's fine with Patty -- it's the kind of music she was raised on, and the kind she returned to on Mountain Soul. She plans for her next album to build on that album's foundation.

"It may not be as rustic as Mountain Soul," Patty says of her new music, which will be a cross between that album's bare-bones acoustic sound and the more mainstream country style that made her a star.

She figures it might even get on the airwaves, unlike Mountain Soul. "But there's other avenues we can take if we can't get it played on radio, I'm sure," she adds.

Whether or not the mainstream gets into whatever Patty does next, she's just happy to make music she loves, the way she wants to make it.

"There's some music that just sounds so slick to me, and so polished, that I'm just afraid to touch it," she explains. "It's almost like my new home: I've got all this new furniture, and I had all these new doors painted, but I wound up having people come back in and bang 'em up and distress 'em." Distressing is a decorating process that involves roughing up surfaces to give them texture and an "aged" look.

"I love distress," says Patty, steering the topic back to her music. "So I guess this is 'distress music.' And you know what? I like it. I feel like I can touch it and feel it."

--Tom Roland

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