Mountain Soul II
by Stephen Fales
Inhabiting the highest pinnacle of artistic integrity must be a lonely place to dwell. Patty Loveless remains a commercial exile, of sorts for the crime of being “too country” for country radio and TV. But Loveless is undistracted by the trendy and continues to adhere to her artistic vision, making music that matters, music of enduring merit, music that would make her Appalachian ancestors very proud. Music like her current offering, Mountain Soul II.
Back in 2001, her acclaimed Mountain Soul set a very high standard for artistic achievement. This shining original is a unique blend of Country, Bluegrass and Mountain music. It is a heartfelt tribute to her parents, especially her coal-miner father, and the Appalachian music that nurtured and sustained their family through many tribulations.
Mountain Soul II is yet another labor of love from Patty Loveless and husband/producer Emory Gordy Jr. and a long awaited continuation of the splendid original. The same recipe was followed here with similar ingredients and equally spectacular results. Like the original, Mountain Soul II is a veritable feast of soul nourishing material, brilliantly served up by the finest pure-Country vocalist of our time, and a distinguished array of acoustic players and vocalists including Del McCoury, Vince Gill and Emmylou Harris.
Sandwiched between the stunningly innovative remake of Harlan Howard’s classic, “Busted”, and the exquisite Diamond in My Crown are generous servings of drumless acoustic music, a deeply moving, grassy mountain tapestry that delights and seldom disappoints.
“Busted”, the opener, is an empathetic song of solidarity for the economically downtrodden. Loveless restores Harlan Howard’s original coal mining lyrics with great effect. Raw and richly textured, the song is saturated with Appalachian acoustics that perfectly complement Patty’s twangy and nuanced Kentucky drawl. The melody is bouncy, almost in contradiction to the dire tale, but this is perhaps the perfect mountain irony; the power of music to help bring about the joy needed to cope.
The Bluegrass/Gospel classic, “Working on A Building” is an energetic tour-de-force with the perfectly blended high lonesome vocals of Loveless and Bluegrass master Del McCoury. The song is metaphorical, the work is God’s work, the hands are human, and the building is the Lord’s own. But the imperative is very down-to-earth, especially when interpreted as pertaining to the efforts to alleviate Appalachian poverty, a cause near and dear to Patty’s heart.
Other highlights include the pure Bluegrass Big Chance (transplanted from Dreamin’ My Dreams), a brilliant number by Loveless/Gordy which continues the Pretty Little Miss story from the first Mountain Soul. The song has an iconic Mountain sound that harkens to the hills, and is full of down home humor. It is perfectly crafted in every musical and lyrical detail.
“Bramble and the Rose” is pure passion and poetry, intertwined with the brilliant rustic tones of Loveless’ versatile voice. Few can inhabit the heart of a song like Patty Loveless.
“When the Last Curtain Falls” is a song that Emory co-wrote. The verses are all calm before the storming chorus, and then Loveless unleashes with her husband’s lyrics delivering a chilling cautionary tale of final accountability. It is an attitude adjustment that puts all things into perspective.
Mountain Soul II is inspired and very well crafted, but it does contain some apparent missed opportunities. Conspicuously absent are two up-tempo Bluegrass numbers from Loveless’ repertoire, Pretty Polly and Close By. Their inclusion would have enhanced the clear Mountain identity of the project even more, and would have created a more balanced mix of tempos.
Also the “less is more” philosophy is overdone in places, the sparse instrumentation works very well on songs like Diamond In My Crown, and the two a-cappella Gospel numbers, but some of the ballads might have benefited from some richer, rawer musical textures.
At first glance, there seems to be an over reliance on recut songs from her own catalog. But Patty Loveless brings forth the inherent Mountain Soul hidden in any given Country song, remaking them according to her natural Mountain sensibilities, and connecting more deeply with her own heritage in the process. She lovingly returns the songs to their essence and roots, back to the very origins of Country music deep in the heart of the hills.
Vocally, Mountain Soul II is Loveless at her best. Her crystal pure Appalachian alto deftly and fluidly shapes each note with rich and resonant tones and an uncanny sense of nuance that comes only with inherent talent and hard gained artistic maturity.
“Diamond in My Crown”, is the crown jewel of this remarkable album. It is hymn-like in its majesty, accompanied by an antique family pump organ, and some beautiful backing by composer Emmylou Harris. Loveless glows with unleashed vocalizations that are positively chill inducing. Transcendent, sublime, superlatives would be understatements when describing the Loveless interpretation of this gem.
Patty Loveless has once again transmuted the coal of hardship an heartache into pure golden tones. This Appalachian alchemy has yielded yet another diamond for her hard won crown. Mountain Soul II is nothing less than another 21st century Patty Loveless masterpiece.
My two favorites are “Busted” and “Workin’ on A Building.” I love Del McCoury’s signature phrasing on the latter song. My very least favorite is “Children of Abraham.” I know that it’s supposed to represent breathless southern preachers, but it just ends up sounding forced/clipped and unnatural when she does it.
I think this is a great album, though I don’t like it as much as the first Mountain Soul or Sleepless Nights. In the end, I felt the pacing was a bit uneven with too many slow songs in a row, which is probably more of a personal preference thing for me than anything else.
A cover of “Busted” was very timely. My favorites are:
Half Over You
When The Last Curtain Falls
Bramble and the Rose
And I agree “Children of Abraham” does sound forced, at some points she doesn’t even get all the words out it seems like she was cut off. I liked how it started out, but felt like it ended badly.
“Children of Abraham” was my least favorite as well. I liked all the other selections, though, with “The Bramble and the Rose” being my favorite.
Excellent review, Steve.
I’m with you folks, I didn’t like “Abraham” when I first heard it either, but it grew on me with each subsequent hearing. I was going to cite it for criticism, but by the time I had the review well underway I grew to really appreciate it. The extreme melisma of the opening chant took some getting used to, but it really fits the style.
At first it seemed out of place to me, and I couldn’t put my finger on just why that was. Then it dawned on me, this is an actual worship style song with a real live congregation chorus participating. So authentic that I felt like I had crashed a service in progress… Whereas the other two Gospel numbers don’t have quite the same effect, and seem at home in either a live worship or recorded setting.
And thanks, Razor. :)
“The Bramble and the Rose” was my favorite as well.
I don’t enjoy it as much as Mountain Soul (which is high on my list of Albums of the Decade) but I definately like it as a “continuation of the splendid original.” That was an apt description that didn’t come to mind for me until I read the review–it seems more continuation than sequel.
“Continuation” is Patty’s characteriztion of MS II. The “splendid original” part is mine. ;)
Patty stated in an article that she was not trying to duplicate the original, and she certainly took a few different turns with the sucessor, taking some risks with songs like “Abraham” and even the a-capella “Friends in Gloryland” She thought an a-cappella number was an element that was missing from the first project.
But there do seem to be some corralaries(sp?).Each album contains three Gospel songs, and Busted fits the Harlan role, Big Chance continuing the Pretty Little Miss story, and I think in some ways Feelings of Love is the fulfillment of the longing cries of Sounds of Loneliness…I think they are somewhat similar stylistically, though I think “Sounds” is the better song, and is a musical miracle. But Pretty Little Miss vs Big Chance? I think Big Chance is an even better song.
I think the strengths of both albums are pretty well matched.
I am up in the air if I am going to buy this album. Bluegrass has never been my favorite but Patty Loveless has…so I am really going to consider it. Who knows maybe she will open my eyes to what I am missing.
There are only a few real Bluegrass songs on this Cory, Big Chance, Working on a Building, and the remade Blue Memories, by my reckoning anyway. The rest are Appalachian folk style, and Mountain treated Country songs.
Since you like Patty, it’s a pretty safe bet that you’ll like this album too. :)
Oh, and Appalachian Gospel songs too.
Some good chart news for MS II first week debut numbers that I gathered from Patty’s fansite:
#19 on the Country charts
#91 on Billboard 200
#106 Billboard Comprehensive
#1 on the Bluegrass Chart
I’m especially delighted about the Bluegrass chart ranking, and the Country chart number isn’t bad at all. Way to go, and congrats to Patty and Emory for some VERY well deserved chart recognition!
I didn’t enjoy this album all that much on first listens, but I’m really coming around to it.
Those are really impressive chart numbers. Goes to show that there is a market for music that radio ignores. Congratulations to Patty, Emory and everyone involved in the project.
I’m starting to come around on this one too. I think the reason why I didn’t enjoy it right off the bat is because I was comparing it too much to the original. Perhaps if the title of the record was something else, I would have first listened to it from a different perspective. I can still see areas where they could have knocked it out of the park, but it’s still a great listen none the less.
I think the title is a disservice to the album, because it automatically conjures up comparisons to the first Mountain Soul and suggests a continuation, which this album really is not. It’s quite different, really.
Reading back on the comments, I guess I disagree with Bill here.:)
Corey, Patty’s first Mountain Soul is one of the first albums that got me interested in giving bluegrass a try. Like Steve said, this one isn’t really a bluegrass album for the most part.
Strictly speaking, I agree, MS II is not really a Bluegrass album per se, though it contains at least two real Bluegrass songs.
But like a lot of other folks, I sometimes use the term “Bluegrass” a kind of shorthand to refer to any drumless Appalachian acoustic, folk, Gospel or Mountain music, not just the uptempo Monroe derivatives. In that sense “Bluegrass” becomes an umbrella term.
I think that broad definition enables Patty’s Mountain Soul II to qualify for the Bluegrass charts, (and at #1 opening week, it qualifies in a VERY convincing manner) and hopefully will qualify for award nominations in the Bluegrass (and Country) categories as well. ;)
Ah Steve, I was trying to convince Corey to give it a try.:)
Well, he can consider it “acoustic Country” then, but no matter how we label it, we can safely call it “excellent”. ;) Sorry Corey, hope I didn’t discourage you by painting the album with that broad “Bluegrass” brush just now. I’m sure you’d really like a lot of the songs on it, if not all…and the others will probably grow on you as well. ;)
More good chart numbers for Patty’s latest masterwork:
#1 Bluegrass (for the second week in a row)
#137 Billboard 200
#161 Billboard Comprehensive
Not bad at all considering there has been no real radio or television support for MS II
Do you know how many she’s sold so far?
Blake posted these numbers on Patty’s fansite, and indicated they are similar to the early sales numbers that Sleepless Nights garnered, which is to say, not bad at all for an album with virtually no radio or TV support. Actually, Sleepless Nights had more promotion going for it, relatively speaking, so in light of that, these MS II numbers are even more impressive.
Last week: 6,231 copies (#19 country, #1 bluegrass)
This week: 4,152 (#27 country, #1 bluegrass)
Thanks to you guys here, and “Lonley Too Long” popping on my ipod this weekend, I am currently downloading Mountain Soul II and if i like it….i will be getting Mountain Soul after that!!
All the best Cory…And since you like Patty, I’m sure you’ll love at least some of the songs on both MS albums, and I’d wager that the rest of them will grow on you. ;)
Just another update for Patty’s chart activity for her latest masterpiece. Mountain Soul II is #1 for the third week in a row on the Bluegrass charts!!!
The other charts are as follows:
#163 BB 200
#197 BB Comprehensive
Congrats to Patty and Emory for the 3rd week at #1 . :)
I like the album, i wouldnt say i love it, but the slower songs on the album i do enjoy a good bit.
What Patty album have i heard “Handful of Dust” on before?
Handful of Dust is also on When Fallen Angels Fly.
Cory, if you like the slower songs better, than maybe you really dont like Bluegrass, as Bluegrass has been characterized as “high octane folk music” or “folk music on steroids”, lol.
Glad you like the album though, it’ll be interesting to hear how you like it compared to the orignal MS, when you get a chance.
Absolutely fantastic review, Steve. Although I love MSII, I probably would have rated it 4.5 stars. I agree that the songs could have been mixed up a little better – too many slow tempo – but, as a rule, those are always my favorite Patty songs.
My favorites are Prisoner’s Tears, Diamond in My Crown, and When the Last Curtain Falls. ‘ Abraham’ hasn’t quite grown on me yet.
I love the addition of the remakes from previous albums, especially Handful of Dust. I’ve never been a fan of Feelings of Love, so that one left me a little cold.
All in all, another spectacular offering from Patty and Emory.
Thanks Bonnie, I think we are certainly in the same ballpark of excellence with only a half of star difference for Patty and Emory’s latest masterwork. ;).
But the way I see it, sometimes the stong points, the high points of an album are SO great and so many that they redeem the album as a whole and lift it to the highest possible rating. Such is the case with Mountain Soul II.
I think Busted, Big Chance, Prisoner’s Tears, Bramble and the Rose, When the Last Curtain Falls, Blue Memories, Handful of Dust, Working on a Building, Friends in Gloryland and Diamond in my Crown are more than enough to earn Mountain Soul II a perfect 5 star rating. Any percieved weaknesses on this record are more than redeemed by the overwhelming strengths of it.
Yea Steve, I can admit I dont really like Bluegrass but I will support anything Patty puts out just to help make sure there is another project down the road!
Congrats to Patty and Emory once again…six weeks now, at the top of the Bluegrass chart!
(43 on Country)
OK, latest update, Patty and Emory eight weeks at # 1 on the Bluegrass charts now. :)
And this from “the Boot”
“Patty Loveless, ‘Mountain Soul 2’
Standout Song: ‘(We Are All) Children of Abraham’
Patty captures the soul of Appalachia, delivering superb performances of songs both new and old. Whether she’s singing about today’s economy with ‘Busted,’ lamenting lost love in ‘Half Over You,’ or trying to figure out relationships in ‘Bramble and the Rose,’ Patty’s vocals are right on. The singer’s sequel to the first ‘Mountain Soul’ disc is another masterpiece.”
Way to go Patty and Em!
I was given a copy of this wonderful album by a DJ at my local country station. He offered it to me when I called in to request one of Patty’s old hits. This is an excellent album. The pure and bluegrass instruments are pleasure to listen to on their own, but the simpler arrangements also allow the depth and sincerity in Patty’s amazing voice to shine through more clearly. My favorite tracks on this album are “Busted,” “A Handful of Dust,” and the fun backwoods romp “Big Chance.” “Mountain Soul II” is definitely a masterpiece.
Well done Mr Fales..You Called it…Mountain Soul II took the Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album. Looks like you have a huge insight on this Album. Working on a building is my fav on this.