Patty Loveless is an unlikely artist to cover Richard Thompson. For most of her career, Loveless has stuck to traditional country music fare -- not surprising given her classic country pedigree. She’s a distant cousin of Loretta Lynn and Crystal Gayle, and counted Porter Wagoner and the Wilburn Brothers as early career mentors. Loveless emerged as a hitmaker in the mid-1980s, part of the neo-traditionalist movement that also spawned Randy Travis, Ricky Skaggs and Dwight Yoakam, among others.
Her recording of “Tear-Stained Letter,” the opening track on her eighth release The Trouble with the Truth, represented the first time Loveless ventured outside the country mainstream for material. Thompson introduced "Tear-Stained Letter" on his 1983 album Hand of Kindness, his first post-Linda solo record. Five years later, Cajun singer Jo-El Sonnier scored an improbable country music hit with the song. Loveless's version was released in 1998, adding twang Sonnier's version lacked. Apparently in an attempt to further countrify the song, Loveless and her producer/husband Emory Gordy Jr. changed one of the song’s wittiest and most essential lines. Thompson's “My head was beating like a song from the Clash” became “My head was spinning just a little too fast.” It's not clear why that revision was made; Sonnier's version made the country top 10 with the Clash name check intact. Country fans who didn't know the Clash were just as unlikely to get the Arthur Murray reference, yet that remained. For those familiar with the original, the lyric update mars Loveless's interpretation.
Loveless returned to the Thompson songbook seven years later, covering “Keep Your Distance” on 2005's Dreamin' My Dreams. Loveless has put her recording career largely on hold the past few years, and the twin Thompson tracks remain the only non-country music songs in her catalog.