Thursday, October 29, 2009

October 29: Patsy Cline, "The Patsy Cline Story"

Artist: Patsy Cline
Album: The Patsy Cline Story
Year: 1963
Label: Decca

When one looks at a majority of the lists of artists who died far too soon, there is one name that is strangely left off quite often. Along with the likes of Hendrix, Holly, Bonham, and The Big Bopper, there was the tragic loss of one of the most gorgeous and perfect voices in the history of music. As a landmark performer of the traditional country-western sound, this icon of singing helped lay the groundwork for rockabilly, and influenced countless singers who came after her. Responsible for the definitive version of some of the most treasured songs ever recorded, there are truly few performers who are worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as the one and only Patsy Cline. Much like fellow performers like Brenda Lee and Kitty Wells, Cline helped to assert the female presence in the male-dominated country scene, as well as progressed the genre as a whole into a pop-based crossover sound. With her timeless, unmistakable, and highly emotional voice, Cline was a unique performer in that she delivered her vocals in a very straightforward manner, as opposed to many of her peers who attempted to inject some false sense of attitude or conviction into their sound. This pure and honest sound is what makes Patsy Cline's music so enduring, and her greatness was perfectly captured on record a few motnhs after her death on the appropriately named 1963 album, The Patsy Cline Story.

The Patsy Cline Story was released in early June of 1963, just a touch over three months after her tragic death in a plane crash over Tennessee. The album is basically a collection of her singles, as well as a handful of songs of songs from the earlier stage of her career that were not as well known. Truth be told, the album was issued in place of her fifth studio record, which she had been recording at the time of her death. That final album, to be called Faded Love, was never formally released, as Decca Records felt it improper to release the unfinished work. Since it's initial release, The Patsy Cline Story has been re-issued a handful of times, and the later re-issues are slightly different. The album was re-released in it's initial form in 1973, and then, in 1988, The Patsy Cline Story was released again, with a new cover (the original is pictured above), as well as different takes of a few songs. This later version contains a remake of "Walkin' After Midnight," as well as the single version of a number of other songs. These changes will go largely unnoticed by the casual listener, but the original mixes are available on CD if you wish to seek them out. Regardless of which version one listens to, the songs are just as stunning, and the musicians throughout the songs understand that, while they are excellent players, the focus is clearly on Cline's stellar vocals.

Easily Patsy Cline's most famous song is her cover of the Willie Nelson classic, "Crazy." The song, which Cline was given by producer Owen Bradley, was the follow-up to her second biggest hit, "I Fall To Pieces," and when she performed it for the first time, it is said that she received three standing ovations from the audience at The Grand Ole Opry. The recorded version as its own historical legend, as Cline had been in a car accident shortly before recording the song, and she had a great deal of difficultly with the initial recording due to having broken ribs. As the story goes, Cline was very unhappy with the vocals she performed, so the following day, she re-entered the studio and laid down the final version of the vocals in a single take. Though the original version written by Willie Nelson was faster paced, it is the slower, more ballad-like version of Cline that has been covered countless times over the years. Perhaps some of the songs' success was due to its slight similarity to Cline's first number one single, "I Fall To Pieces." Though she had made her name a few years previous with "Walkin' After Midnight," it is "I Fall To Pieces" that gave Cline her crossover success, and the song has since become a country music standard. Though these songs truly define Cline as a performer, there is not a sub-standard song anywhere on The Patsy Cline Story, and each song is just as soul-bearing and moving as the next.

It is the pure, honest, and flawless voice of Patsy Cline that makes her songs so mesmerizing and unrivaled, nearly fifty years after their release. Able to powerfully shine anywhere across the vocal spectrum, there are few singers, especially in the country-western genre, who have been able to deliver with the strength and volume that Cline brings on every song. From "I Fall To Pieces" to "She's Got You," Cline perfectly represents honest heartache and heartbreak, and her simple, yet beautiful vocal arrangements made her crossover success inevitable. Her crooning/crying vocal style often resembles the feeling of personal heartbreak so perfectly, that they transcend all boundaries, whether they be those of language or personal musical taste. The voice of Patsy Cline is truly a voice of "everyman," and this pure and unaltered approach is the reason why her songs continue to endure the test of time. The simple piano and string arrangements that back Patsy Cline on a majority of her songs further this universal appeal, and the combination stands today as the most clear representation of everything that was the "Nashville country" sound. With brilliant song selection, soft and almost minimal musical backing, there is little left to distract from the largely unmatched vocal prowess of Patsy Cline, and it is her vocal approach that helps to make the songs appealing to audiences that are far from the country style.

Possessing what stands today as one of the most pure and overall greatest voices in history, there are few artists of any genre who have a voice even remotely comparable to that of Patsy Cline. Along with her sensational voice, it was due to her efforts (as well as those of a few of her peers) that helped to push country music into the general consciousness of popular music, and the inroads that she blazed for women in music is also largely unrivaled. Redefining the boundaries of both country and popular music with iconic hits like "I Fall To Pieces" and "Crazy," the sound and style of Patsy Cline has influenced artists across every genre and still does so nearly five decades after her tragic passing. Taking the classic croon and cry of country and brilliantly blending it together with the less "twangy," smoother sensibility of the great pop singers of the time, the voice of Patsy Cline is as unique as one can find form the era, and the pure authenticity in her singing pushes her far above her contemporaries. Truth be told, there are few performers of any genre from any time period who can present raw and honest songs of heartache as well as Cline, and the pain and struggle within her voice still have as much impact today as they did all those years ago. Though she is often a sidenote on the lists of great performers who were taken far too soon, there are few musicians who possess a similar amount of talent, and emotion as Patsy Cline. Since her passing in 1963, countless compilations of her songs have been released, yet it is the collection that was released just months after her death, The Patsy Cline Story, that perfectly captures everything that makes her the icon that she remains to this day, and it is a truly indispensable collection of one of the greatest vocalists in the history of music.

Standout tracks: "She's Got You," "I Fall To Pieces," and "Crazy."

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