The twenty year stretch from the release of Urban Cowboy to O Brother, Where Art Thou was an interesting time in country music. For decades all the major record labels had offices in Nashville, but it was during this period that they seriously began to contribute to the corporate profits of their parent companies, and their business model and marketing and sales efforts started to mirror those of mainstream pop. Folks who came to the music early through traditional artists such as the Carter Family and Hank, Merle, Buck and George, from bluegrass and the Sunday morning songs, or even the Byrds-Burrito axis, felt a bit left out as the hat acts and painted ladies dominated radio and the shelves at retail. Sort of like it still is today, I guess.
Patty Loveless was one of those artists that I’d hear on the radio and would see at the awards shows from time to time, and always had it in the back of my mind she was someone special to check out…but I didn’t. After the release of O’ Brother and the interest in bluegrass music spiked, I caught her on the tour that was put together to support the soundtrack and movie. I recall that when she came out on the stage and started to sing, that I sat up straight and marveled at the power and clarity of her voice. Man…she was special that night and once again I was intent on exploring her music…but didn’t.
It took a blog post a few weeks ago with a passing reference to Patty’s new upcoming bluegrass release to make me finally take the time for a longer look at an amazing woman with a great life story and a body of work that is as Americana as it is country.
As a young teenage girl growing up in Kentucky, Patty sang locally with her family and then spent her weekends and time off from school touring at first with Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, and later as the featured singer with The Wilburn Brothers. At nineteen she married and moved to North Carolina, where she sang here and there while also working sometimes as a waitress. Ten years later she made her way back to Nashville and with the help of her brother Roger, she secured a singles-only deal at MCA. Early in 1988 she released an album that yielded two top ten singles: “If My Heart Only Had Windows” and “A Little Bit In Love” written by Steve Earle.
For the next four years Patty toured extensively and scored well at radio hit with a number of charted songs. In 1992 she developed a problem with her throat that led to a surgery that could have killed off her career. Fortunately, her voice came back stronger than ever and she began an eight year run at Epic that included the CMA Album of The Year award for When Fallen Angels Fly. With a changing and challenging country radio format, Patty released the bluegrass Mountain Soul and it was received very well. There was a Christmas bluegrass release the following year, and several more commercial releases that led to a Grammy nomination for her 2008 release Sleepless Nights. Which brings us here.
I uploaded the advance release of Mountain Soul II last night and took the dog for a long walk this morning down by the riverbed so I could listen. This is the first time I’ve really taken the time to really hear Patty and from the very beginning it’s easy to imagine that that these songs take her back to those early days in Kentucky. You almost forget that you’re listening to bluegrass music, because it feels more like something you’d hear coming from a late night broadcast on WSM or WWVA back in the fifties This is traditional music….American folk music….songs played on front porches and songs that were sung on Sundays at church.
Produced by her husband Emory Gordy, Jr., MSII was recorded with top flight musicians that include Del and Ronnie McCoury, Al Perkins, Jon Randall, Vince Gill, and Rebecca Lynn Howard. Emmylou Harris lends harmony to her “Diamond in My Crown”. Patty kicks off the album with a definitive version of Harlan Howard’s “Busted” with the original lyrics intact, and travels down the highway with bluegrass, folk, country and traditional gospel repertoire. Every single track is a blessing, and although it took me a long time to find Patty, I’m glad I did.
Patty will do some touring to support this release. Also as part of the record launch, Patty is taking the opportunity to support the Christian Appalachian Project. By logging on to http://www.christianapp.org/ users can make a donation to the organization and will receive a free download of “Working on a Building” from Mountain Soul II. All donations will help bring real change to the lives of the men, women and children of Appalachia living in poverty.