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Splitting her time between Nashville and her Georgia getaway, PATTY LOVELESS brings her mountain soul back to mainstream country

Patty Loveless looks completely at home, leaning against the grand piano in the parlor of the Rose Lawn Museum, just off the courthouse square in the Georgia town of Cartersville. An elegant staircase, breezy lace curtains and brocade sofa wrap comfortably around her, a perfect match for her personal style - polite, gracious, rooted in tradition.

Those roots come through loud and clear on her new album, On Your Way Home, which marks her return to mainstream country, even as it keeps the down-home attitude of 2001's critically acclaimed Mountain Soul.

"I've found a good place for myself," Patty figures. "It is a very traditional-sounding album. It speaks out about the kind of artist I am. I felt like being true to my audience, and I'm not shy about where I'm going with it. I'm getting to the point that I really believe in what I do."

On Your Way Home encompasses all of what Patty Loveless does. Its 11 tunes will remind fans of her mid-'90s run of solid hits, from the heartbreak of "Nothin' but the Wheel" and "Here I Am" to the twang country of "You Don't Seem to Miss Me" and the sassiness of "You Can Feel Bad." "It's a combination of stuff I've been doing over the years, a little bit of mountain music, no piano whatsoever," she explains. "I was honestly trying to lean more toward the acoustic-type instruments, but to add back electric guitar and electric bass and drums and make it a little more raw than some previous recordings I've done." Patty is pleased with the work, yet understandably nervous about putting herself back in the competitive world of radio and record stores. "With country music, a long time ago, it used to be that your best publicity was word of mouth," recalls Patty. "If you got a song played on radio, or if you played a little place, it was like, 'Oh, you've got to go hear these people play!' But today, you almost have to be in magazines and do the 'glamour' thing. I never look at myself as a glamorous, movie-star type of person. To me, videos are about as far as I can take it!" Patty's attitude toward fashion is obvious by her choice of around-the-house clothing. "I put on a sweatshirt and put my overalls on over it," she laughs. "When I first started wearing overalls, I thought 'Oh, honey, what am I doing wearing overalls?' Now you can't get me out of them. They're comfortable. I have about six pair!"

But it's not just getting dressed up that makes Patty uncomfortable about coming back to the mainstream country business. "The hard thing for me to swallow is the politics," she says. "I'm not a very good politician. It all comes back to the fear of losing. I don't want to disappoint the people who work with me, and work very hard, and believe in me.

"When it comes to the competitive part, where the artists' songs compete with each other, that's one of the things I don't like. Sometimes I feel the music is overlooked. This is not what we are here for. The music is what brought us here. So why not let it flow?"

Music flows through Patty's life at all times. Her idea of a great evening is gathering with musician friends and jamming. She even married her producer, Georgia native Emory Gordy Jr. They've had no children, but their collaboration - at work and at home - is naturally creative, a nonstop exchange of ideas about songs, style and new musical approaches.

Though they own a home in Nashville, the couple spends many weeks out of the year at their private retreat about 40 miles outside Atlanta. There they are surrounded by Emory's large extended family, a quiet lake and acres of woodland. While Emory chats on his ham radio, Patty likes to spend time in her one indulgence - a spa-like bathroom with steam shower, a tub in the center of the room, fireplace and basket-weave tile floor. She also has just bought a cultivator "to plant some things."

But these days, she's eager to cultivate her musical identity, which flowers even further with On Your Way Home.

"If somebody would ask me what Patty Loveless is, she's a combination of Linda Ronstadt, Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline," she describes herself. "I've always wanted to be able to touch people the way those people have touched people. That's what I think music is all about, touching the heart, making you feel.

"Long after the artists are gone, after we have all passed on, the song remains. That's what people will remember. They won't remember what TV show we were on, what awards we won or what magazine we were in, and I don't expect them to. I want them to remember what I sang."