Patty Loveless Fans Encourage a ‘Mountain Soul’ Revival
Patty Loveless possesses one of the purest voices in country music. Never was that more evident than eight years ago when she released ‘Mountain Soul,’ a rootsy album of classic country and Appalachian folk tunes. Now the Kentucky native carries on that tradition with a new project, ‘Mountain Soul II.’
“When we were approached by the label [Saguaro Road] to do another record, I wasn’t ready to, to tell you the truth,” Patty tells The Boot. “It just seemed a little soon to me, because we had just released ‘Sleepless Nights’ in September of ’08. But on our tour, a lot of people asked me if I was ever going to do another record along the lines of ‘Mountain Soul.’ I had been telling them that I would consider it, so after thinking about it we offered the label this idea, and they gave it their blessing.”
Emory Gordy Jr., Patty’s husband and musical collaborator of 20 years — and a member of Elvis Presley‘s band in the early 1970s, once again produced the project, helping her achieve the goal of not crafting just another ‘Mountain Soul,’ but of exploring a wider range of material, all the while deepening the roots of the original project. “I didn’t want people to think I was trying to duplicate that album, because you can’t ever do that,” Patty insists. “At first I didn’t want to call it ‘Mountain Soul II,’ because I was afraid fans would think that’s what I was doing. The songs on this album have more lyric content, and music which I consider more contemporary. They are a mixture of Appalachian, bluegrass, gospel, spiritual and acoustic, but there’s also a little bit of electric guitar and steel. There are no drums, just like the first one.”
In addition to traditional gospel tunes such as ‘Working on a Building’ and a stirring a capella rendition of ‘(We Are All) Children of Abraham,’ which sounds traditional, but is actually a new song, Patty reaches back to uncover the never-before-recorded original lyrics of the late, great songwriter Harlan Howard‘s classic, ‘Busted.’ Joining her on the classic song are bluegrass legend Del McCoury and his sons, Ronnie and Rob.
“Emory and Harlan were writing together and they went to one of those famous Harlan Howard lunches,” Patty recalls. “They got to talking about ‘Busted’ and Emory said to him, ‘That’s such a great song, it would be interesting if it had been about coal mines.’ Harlan looked at him and said, ‘You’re not gonna believe this, but the original lyrics were about a family from coal-mining country.’ He went on to explain that when Johnny Cash heard it, he called Harlan and said ‘I don’t know anything about coal mines.’ Harlan asked him what he did know about and Cash said cotton, so Harlan changed [the song's lyrics]. Harlan gave Emory a copy of the original lyrics and when we were working on this project he pulled them out and we recorded it the way it was originally written. I think it’s the first time it’s ever been recorded that way.”
All the songs on the new album were cut live, echoing the way most early country records were made. Patty, the musicians and other vocalists were all in the studio at the same time recording their parts, giving everyone a chance to interact with each other, make suggestions, and even improvise if the mood strikes. Only two songs were cut using overdubs, with parts put down on different recording sessions. One is ‘Diamond in My Crown,’ an Emmylou Harris/Paul Kennerly tune; the other is ‘Blue Memories,’ written by Kennerly with Karen Brooks.
“I cut ‘Diamond in My Crown’ in my home in Georgia, because I wanted to use an old 1848 pump organ that my mother-in-law had gotten for Emory for Christmas one year,” Patty explains. “His mother would be proud to know that pump organ was made use of. My vocals were done at home, then we brought that recording to Nashville and Emmy put her part on. It sounded like we were in the same room together. It’s a great song and a great closer for the record.”
Patty also pulls off another first on the project. “Emory and I wrote ”(We Are All) Children of Abraham.’ Actually it’s the first a capella thing I’ve ever done. It’s a bluesy, gospel number, reminiscent of songs that might have been heard in a primitive Baptist church. It reminds me of going back home, because sometimes I got to attend those church services and hear the music, which is a call-and-repeat kind of delivery. Emory and I love stories from the Bible, so on the first ‘Mountain Soul’ record we wrote ‘Rise Up Lazarus.’ This tune has that old feel, similar to something you heard before. But it’s ours and I’m proud of it!”
Patty says returning home and capturing that feeling with her music is an important part of her legacy. “When I look back at my past, even as a child, and all the experiences that this young generation will never ever experience, to be able to put that in song is so great. I could remember, even as I was laying the song down, all those experiences in those churches.
“The first time Emory heard that type of singing was when one of my uncles died, and there were five ministers at the funeral,” Patty continues. “They did the call-and-repeat, and it was unbelievable. When they would talk, it was almost like they were singing. Emory was overwhelmed with it. They did it again at the grave site. It drains you, but at the same time it’s the most uplifting experience. They did the music like that in the early churches because there were no hymnals or songs written down, so the visiting preacher would come in and teach them the song by talking a line and having the congregation sing it back to him.”
While they’ve been together for more than two decades, Patty laughingly remembers the very first time she ever saw her future husband. “It was in Nashville in 1973, and he was still playing with Elvis,” she says. “I was 14. I didn’t actually meet him until 1985.” That was the year another of Elvis’ musicians, Tony Brown, who was the head of MCA Records at the time, brought Emory in to help produce Patty’s first album. Together, they would score more than 40 hit singles, taking five of them to the top of the country charts, including ‘Chains’ and ‘Blame It on Your Heart.’ While mainstream country tastes have changed over the years, the singer says she’s content in the place she’s found for herself and her music.
“Time moves on. I remember when I hung out with Doyle Wilburn [of the Wilburn Brothers], I was so anxious. I was just 15 then and he used to tell me, ‘You know what you’ve got going for you? You’ve got youth going for you, and don’t forget it.’ They had their heyday just like Dolly [Parton] and Porter [Wagoner] had their heyday, and of course Dolly continued on, she stays young forever. But you do have that time, and it could last five years, ten years, maybe 20, but there does come a time to hand it over, sit back and relax. Hopefully my name will be remembered as someone that was a great friend to a song.”
Speaking of friends, another special guest on the album is Vince Gill, who has been a part of Patty’s recording career since 1985. “He came in and sang on two cuts of an album that Tony and Emory were producing on me at the time,” she recalls. “A couple years later, he sang on ‘Timber I’m Falling In Love.’ After that, I ended up singing on [the Grammy-winning] ‘When I Call Your Name.’ From that point on, we’ve had a real connection. Vince can sing with everybody. He maneuvers his way around them, and he just can do it. The first time I met him … I had just signed to MCA and I was at Fan Fair, in the good ole days. He was signing autographs and giving away posters. I walked by and saw him and went ‘Oh my god that is Vince Gill.’ I took my picture with him and I told him ‘I may be recording with you one day.’ Lo and behold, it happened very quickly.”
With an album populated by story songs, Patty says she uses what she’s learned from old movies to get into the part, especially with tunes like ‘You Burned The Bridge,’ written by Jon Randall. “I try to get an image in my head of what’s going on in the song. On this one, I was singing from a third-person standpoint. The image I had in my mind was that I was sitting in a bar with a friend, and they had just lost the love of their life because they thought they wanted their freedom. I’m conjuring that up in my head and and I find myself being the person talking to them and consoling them. I sort of presented the song as a conversation with a friend, a buddy. I had to get into their head and understand what they were feeling. On some songs I don’t think I capture that but this time I felt like I did.” In terms of today’s younger artists continuing in the more hardcore country tradition Patty knows and loves, she has her eye on a few in particular. “I love Miranda Lambert, I think she’s wonderful. I love the song ‘Love Letters’ and ‘Famous in a Small Town.’”
Patty also cites Carrie Underwood as someone who could have a long-lasting career in country music, saying, “I heard her do ‘Stand By Your Man’ and that Randy Travis song, ‘I Told You So.’ She has that voice, she can do it, she can if she really wants to do it.”
And while tradition and reflection are an important part of her music, Patty also believes in living in the moment. When she’s in the studio, she’s into the music. At home, she’s into being a housewife. “When I get away from this, my head is into gardening, the dogs, four-wheeling. I escape for a while, I get around nature. I have a vegetable garden, and I enjoy being outside. I do work quite a bit around the house. Emory says I’m always doing something. It’s hard for me to sit still. Now if you’ll sit me in front of a great old movie I’ll sit still, because I love that too.”
‘Mountain Soul II’ arrives in stores tomorrow (Sept. 29).The album and Patty’s upcoming tour dates are helping to spotlight the many challenges faced by the people living in the Appalachian mountains.