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‘The Patsy Cline Collection'--Stuff of Sweet Dreams

TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

Patsy Cline wasn’t the first female star in country music, but she may well have been the first great one.

Patsy Montana, whose 1935 recording of “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart” is believed to be the first record by a female country singer to sell 1 million copies, and Kitty Wells, whose “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” was one of the biggest country hits of the ‘50s, were earlier queens of country music.

Neither singer, however, exhibited the vocal character or command of Cline, a native of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley whose life was the subject of the 1985 film “Sweet Dreams.”

Cline only registered six Top 10 country hits before she was killed at age 31 in a 1963 plane crash, but her influence can be felt in the work of countless singers, from Loretta Lynn to Linda Ronstadt to k.d. lang.

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Cline’s hits--including “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “Crazy” and “I Fall to Pieces"--are contained in “The Patsy Cline Collection,” a highly rewarding four-disc box set from MCA Records. The set was produced by the Country Music Foundation and includes 10 previously unreleased selections.

Though the earliest tracks in the set are hard-core country, Cline and producer Owen Bradley didn’t shy away from occasional pop, blues and rock influences.

Indeed, Cline--who could sing with both a haunting, torch-like intensity and an affecting wistfulness--enjoyed almost as much success in the pop field as in country music and she recorded pop and country standards. During one four-hour session in 1961, for instance, Cline recorded both Cole Porter’s “True Love” and Bob Wills’ “San Antonio Rose.”

Though “Walkin’ After Midnight” in 1957 was her first hit, it was her version of “I Fall to Pieces” four years later that some believe represented an artistic breakthrough for her. In the box set’s excellent liner notes, Ray Walker, a member of the Jordanaires vocal group, which worked with Cline and Elvis Presley, describes the impact of the record on her.

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“After that, she was not fearful of singing those songs anymore,” Walker says. “She had been fearful of a ballad, period. (She) thought it had to be up-tempo. But when she started singing the ballads, she not only found a joy and a release in it, I’m sure, but she found out, ‘I can sing those.’ Where formerly she had performed, now she poured her heart out. Where once she sang the words, now she felt them.”

In the Stores: RCA has released digitally remastered versions of three Elvis Presley albums. They are “From Elvis in Memphis” (some excellent, often overlooked work, including such songs as “Long Black Limousine” and “I’m Movin’ On”), “Elvis on Stage” (from 1970 Las Vegas dates) and “Elvis” (the 1968 TV special, with bonus material not in the original album).


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