Review : Patty Loveless - Mountain Soul II
PopmattersI recently spoke to a woman currently incarcerated in an Iowa state prison and asked her how she felt about prison songs. Not the Johnny Cash/David Allen Coe kind about people actually being locked up, but the more metaphorical ones that concern love being like a prison. Did imaginary poetic depictions somehow cheapen the real experience? The woman just laughed and told me to lighten up. Don’t confuse music with reality, she said, that’s a foolish thing to do.
She’s right, of course, but I wish I could play her Patty Loveless’ brutal version of Mike Henderson’s classic country tune “Prisoner’s Tears”. Loveless wrenches every ounce of emotion out of the lyrics where “they don’t see the shackles / but I’m living in chains”. Could being in love ever be as painful as Loveless croons, or is it just a romantic notion? Could being in an actual prison be that bad? The fact that Loveless makes you ask such questions just shows how effective she is at conveying strong feelings.
The somberness of “Prisoner’s Tears” serves as a good example of what Mountain Soul II is all about. Loveless continues the exploration into old time country, bluegrass and Appalachian music that she began on her 2001 Grammy Award-nominated album Mountain Soul. She even employs the same producer, husband Emory Gordy Jr., and backup band: fiddler Deanie Richardson, Dobro player Rob Ickes, singer Jon Randall and harmony vocalists Rebecca Lynn Howard. She also employs a few stellar guests, including vocalists Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill, Syndi Perry, and Carl Jackson and players Al Perkins, Del McCoury and Ronnie McCoury. The results are sure to please country music purists....full text
AllmusicFor the record: Patty Loveless' Mountain Soul II is not a strict sequel to its 2001 predecessor. Whereas the former album was chock-full of bluegrass tunes both historical and contemporary, the sequel is a far more diverse collection that includes traditional songs, country music classics, and some new originals -- and yes, there are a couple of bluegrass tunes in the mix. Loveless and her husband, producer Emory Gordy, Jr., recruited a remarkable cast of players and backing vocalists, and wrote some stellar tunes to put alongside hallmark favorites on this mostly acoustic date. The guests are a star-studded list of session players and singers including Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Rebecca Lynn Howard, steel boss Al Perkins, and fiddler Stuart Duncan, to mention only a slim few. The set opens with a mountain version of Harlan Howard's standard "Busted," featuring no less than bluegrass legend Del McCoury on guitar and lead chorus vocal and son Ronnie on mandolin; Rob Ickes plays Dobro and Bryan Sutton plays banjo (these latter three appear on multiple cuts). It's followed by an utterly moving version of Susannah Clark and Rodney Crowell's broken love song "Fools Thin Air," with Mike Auldridge on Dobro and Carl Jackson on banjo. There is a stellar vocal trio on the traditional "Friends in Gloryland," sung a cappella with Gill and Howard. The pair also appears with Loveless on the gorgeous "Blue Memories." Another a cappella number is Loveless and Gordy's "(We Are All) Children of Abraham," with the Burnt Hickory Primitive Baptist Congregation, who sound more like pre-Thomas Dorsey gospel music than the postwar historical model. There is a lovely version of Barbara Keith's "Bramble and the Rose," before the album closes with Kostas' tender leaving song "Feelings of Love" and "Diamond in My Crown," the latter penned by Emmylou Harris and Paul Kennerley. This last track, with Harris on tenor backing vocal and Butch Lee on a vintage pump organ, leaves the set on a haunting, lonesome note. Mountain Soul II is every bit as fine as the original Mountain Soul was, and is more adventurous. Loveless and Gordy make no concessions to contemporary country music and don't seem to give a damn about the charts. Loveless has built a following that may not be in the millions anymore, but it is plentiful enough in numbers to support her enthusiastically in whatever endeavor she attempts to undertake. And why not? Since 2000, every record she's released has been at least as good as the one that preceded it, and this is no exception....full text
SlantmagazineApretty terrific effort by just about any objective standard, Patty Loveless's Mountain Soul II is still something of a letdown, if only because it has the misfortune of having been billed as a sequel to what is perhaps the finest, most thematically rich album of the last decade. While the concept of recording a follow-up to a landmark record that blended bluegrass, contemporary country, and traditional Southern gospel might seem like a can't-miss proposition for an artist as reliable as Loveless (indeed, it's something that her fans have been clamoring for since 2001), the actual product itself reveals exactly what makes the first Mountain Soul one of those rare, lightning-in-a-bottle accomplishments.
Opening with a version of Harlan Howard's "Busted" that restores the song's original lyrics about a coalmine that no longer provides for its community, II starts off with the promise that it may show the same depth of insight into the Eastern Kentucky mining towns of Loveless's childhood. "Busted" is the album's most compelling cut by far, and it's a shame that it exists nearly in isolation, with only one other song ("Handful of Dust") that details both the struggle and the dignity fostered by this region of rural Appalachia. Instead, the record is primarily filled with more standard country tropes on songs like "Half Over You" and "You Burned the Bridge." They're fine enough songs, but they aren't necessarily any better or worse than the material found on some of Loveless's mid-'90s records. Only "Handful of Dust," with its unconventional melody, and the folk-leaning ballad "Bramble and the Rose" truly stand out. But even the best of the songs fail to connect into any broader, more meaningful themes.
On the first Mountain Soul, Loveless's choice of gospel standards all explored the notion that diligence and service to the Lord may not be rewarded on Earth but would reap everlasting benefits. Here, the gospel cuts are no less spirited (her reading of "Working on a Building" is first-rate, and her performance on Emmylou Harris's "Diamond in my Crown" is among the most soulful of her career), but the content of the songs is more scattered. These hymns all fall right into Loveless's considerable wheelhouse, and the acoustic instrumentation is a good fit for the songs; the songs just don't necessarily fit together....full text
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