Best Country Albums of 2009, Part 2: #10-#1

Round 2 – FIGHT!

Play On
Carrie Underwood

World: meet Underwood. She’s fiercely compassionate and endearingly idealistic (the riveting “Change”). She holds her beliefs with a firm but quiet conviction (“Temporary Home”). She’s as comfortable and convincing at tearing down a wrong-doer (the Dixie Chicks-esque “Songs Like This”) as she is nursing an irreparable heartache, whether it’s in the form of a haunting country standard (“Someday When I Stop Loving You”) or a rich pop ballad (“What Can I Say?”). And she’s one of the most gifted vocalists of this generation, possessing an instrument that, when colored and layered with emotion as she’s aptly learned to do on Play On, can have bone-chilling effects.

Like it or leave it, Play On is the most authentic encapsulation of Underwood’s artistry and persona to date, and serves as an exciting glimpse at how far a little growth can carry her. The best is yet to come, but in the meantime, the “good” is pretty damn good. – Tara Seetharam

Sara Watkins
Sara Watkins

As most people know by now, Sara Watkins is the female member of the now-disbanded (hopefully temporarily) New Grass trio, Nickel Creek. While Nickel Creek was difficult to classify in a certain genre (not bluegrass, not country), they were embraced by bluegrass and country music fans alike. Each member of the popular trio has released intriguing projects outside of Nickel Creek, but Watkins’ album  has assumed the most decidedly country direction of them all. As a result, we are treated to a sublime album thanks to Watkins’ sweet voice and a set of impressively solid songs. – Leeann Ward

Live at Eddie’s Attic
The Civil Wars

When Alabama singer/songwriter John Paul White and eleven-time Dove Award nominee Joy Williams formed the Civil Wars, their first release Live at Eddie’s Attic (available for free download) appeared to be purely publicity, not something one expects to be spectacular. Yet, Live at Eddie’s Attic is exactly that, excelling in the emerging acoustic movement that floats along the outskirts of country much like the most pop-oriented country radio fare, albeit in its own direction. – William Ward

Live on the Inside

I’ve never heard a live album that has so made me long to see an act in concert. Sure, the live versions of the hits are solid, especially the marriage of “Joey” with Nightswimming,”  But it’s the broad selection of interesting covers that make this essential listening. Where else can you hear Pearl Jam and Kings of Leon songs alongside songs by The B-52’s and Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians? – Okay, fine. Satellite radio. But you won’t hear Nettle’s irreplaceable drawl wrapped around them anywhere else. – Kevin Coyne

Miranda Lambert

If Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was the album that commanded us to sit up and take notice of Lambert, Revolution is the album that lures us in, one intriguing, introspective song at a time. By shedding the authentic but limiting aggression-heavy skin of her previous album, Lambert is free to explore the complex of emotions behind her fierce persona, in songs that range from poking tongue-in-cheek fun (“Only Prettier”) to honestly and accessibly conveying love (“Love Song”). And it should be noted that, while Lambert has honed her songwriting skills to a tee on Revolution, her largely underrated vocal skills are perhaps equally superb on this album; this is no more apparent than on the touching, beautifully restrained “The House that Built Me.” – TS

Written in Chalk
Buddy & Julie Miller

A textbook Americana album – textbook in the sense that it truly does blend a wide range of roots sounds, and in the sense that it’s really freaking good. What you get here is part warm country (“Ellis County”), part dirty rock ‘n’ roll (“Gasoline and Matches”), part quiet folk (“Chalk”), and even part slow-burning jazz (“Long Time”). The common thread is immaculately crafted melodies and productions which nail the essence of each song’s emotional point.
– Dan Milliken

Willie and the Wheel
Willie Nelson & Asleep at the Wheel

Three decades in the making, Willie & The Wheel came to us in a swingin’ flurry at the beginning of 2009, setting the bar so high for future albums that very few were able to outshine it. It’s one of those rare albums that sounds inspired from start to finish, as though not one single note of the wildly energetic, masterfully performed disc was taken for granted by its creators. Given the current musical landscape, Willie & The Wheel may feel like a tribute to Western Swing, but make no mistake: distinct and compelling, this is an album that embodies and, in many ways, enhances Western Swing – a classic on its own merits. – TS

The Excitement Plan
Todd Snider

The Excitement Plan is more acoustic than some of Snider’s previous work (thanks to producer Don Was), but the clever turn of ideas and his trademark relaxed delivery is ever-present. As always, Snider gently pokes a stick at the world, along with himself, as he views life’s situations through his typically goofy, but insightful, lens. Album highlights include the retro-sounding “Don’t Tempt Me” (with Loretta Lynn), the self-aware/self-deprecating “Money, Compliments, Publicity (Song Number Ten)” and the simple “Corpus Christi Bay.” With a string of quality and engaging albums under his belt, it’s heartening that The Excitement Plan manages to be one of Snider’s most solid   projects so far. – LW

Midnight at the Movies
Justin Townes Earle

Justin Townes Earle’s largest claim to fame is still a matter of his family tree, despite musical differences that, in many ways, make comparisons with his acclaimed singer/songwriter father quite challenging. Midnight at the Movies continues Justin’s argument for fame under his own merits, highlighting his less political and more personal writing with a warm voice much less worn than his father’s. It also provides one of the strongest songs of the decade, “Mama’s Eyes,” an epic wrapped up in a package so tiny it leaves you wondering how it was done. – WW

Ashley Monroe

Satisfied was supposed to be released in 2006, but since the album did not produce any top 20 singles, Columbia Nashville held the album instead of officially releasing it. It did momentarily find its way onto digital retail outlets for a month, just long enough to gain hype by ardent supporters who recognized that Satisfied was a real gem that deserved to be officially released to the public. Fortunately, the powers that be at Columbia (though Monroe and the record label had long since parted ways) finally decided to re-release the digital version of the album in May 2009, this time for good.

While Monroe was merely nineteen years old when she recorded this album, she neither caters to the teen crowd nor overreaches to prove her maturity. Instead, her warm, clear crackling voice simply sings of what she knows. From her playful duet with Dwight Yoakam (“That’s Why We Call Each Other Baby”) to introspective compositions such as “Hank’s Cadillac” and the album’s title track, Satisfied is smart without being pretentious, contemporary without being bubblegum and traditional without being stale. – LW


  1. And so ends the decade and year end round up. All in all, a good batch. You really had to search beyond the local Best Buy to find most of these albums though. I am surprised by a couple of omissions, namely Patty Loveless’ Mountain Sould II and Rosanne Cash’s The List.

  2. Must have been a REALLY good year if two of the most critically acclaimed albums of the year, Patty’s Mountain Soul II and Roseanne’s The List failed to make Country Universe’s top 20 albums of ’09.

    I didn’t realize the competition was that strong as to keep these two wonderful albums at bay.

    This is an unconscionable oversight. This acclaim by commitee stuff ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.

  3. unconscionable? I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s overstepping for me to say that out of the Country Universe staff, I’m the one who liked the Loveless album the most. With that said, I liked the album, but I’ve made no secret of the shortcomings that I felt that it had, including tempo/sequencing, “Children of Abraham” (which I thought was a terrible misstep) and that it just was not up to the level of the first Mountain Soul (a comparison that its name automatically and intentionally invites). It will be revealed sometime tomorrow, but Patty’s album just missed my top ten. I can honestly say that I liked ten albums more than I liked Mountain Soul II and I’m comfortable with my list. I listen to a heck of a lot of music in a year.

  4. The List actually was close to making my group. It would probably be in my personal top 15. There were just a few too many moments in that album that didn’t stick much to me. As for Mountain Soul II, I’ve already expressed that Patty’s cover albums are starting to wear on me a little. I love “Busted” and few other moments on that album, but I wouldn’t call the whole one of the ten most necessary albums of ’09.

  5. I’m getting a little tired of Carrie U. This album seems to be out of the Reba 90’s playbook. In fact, all of her albums do. There’s no real change from album to album. Her songwriting gets better, but that’s tempered by the loss of other songs not penned by Carrie (which are usually better).

  6. I stand by my statement, it is an injustice in my opinion, the kind one might expect of country lite radio and tv, but not here. You of course are entitled your opinion, it’s your list, but Mountain Soul II and “The List” ended up on many top ten lists in print and on the internet, and their omission here is surprising and disapointing.

    I do understand what you don’t like about MS II, but the way I see it is that the real or perceived flaws on this album are minor and pale in comparison to the overwhelming strengths of it. As for the comparisons invited by the title, there were actually more than a few reviewers besides myself who liked it just as much as the original. The fact that your almost-top-ten ranking was the best for MS II here, and that it was lower on everyone else’s list, is troubling.

    The “unconscionable” remark was not meant to question any individual staff member’s integrity, but rather only to question and profoundly disagree with your collective judgement, in this specific matter.

  7. Pleasantly surprised that Carrie’s Play On made your list. I thought Miranda’s would of placed a little higher, not #1, but certainly in the top 5. Quite an eclectic list of albums which is a good thing.

  8. Steve,
    I knew you would be disappointed, but I actually didn’t think you’d be terribly surprised considering the past comments of mine and the other CU writers regarding the album: What Dan said above is not the first time he’s said it. Kevin has expressed that he much prefers her more contemporary material, I don’t recall Tara commenting either way on the topic and I’ve repeatedly stated my misgivings about the album, including saying that I’d put it at least below Mountain Soul and Sleepless Nights. When I think about it, I might even like On Your Way Home better too.

    Furthermore, I don’t think the fact that the album appeared on other site’s top ten lists is a reason to include it on ours.

    Five people voted on this collective list. Such a process definitely has its flaws, but it allows for a more diverse sampling of the year. If we just posted “Leeann’s Top Albums of 2009”, it would be pretty predictable. What’s the fun in that?

    Since we only did a top twenty, good albums are bound to be left off.

  9. Ha,I was counting on you and Bill, with Kevin as a swing vote in Patty’s favor. ;) I knew you had some misgivings about the album Leeann, but I’m really surprised they weighed heavily enough in your evaluation to keep MS II out of your top ten. You have also said many, many very positive things to me and here on the boards about this album from the get-go. We didn’t seem that far apart on it, and I’m surprised that a very fine album from one of your favorite artists didn’t make your top ten. But again, it is your list. I guess I read too much into those positive statements, and not enough into your misgivings.

    I understand and appreciate what Dan is saying as well, but if MS II is a covers album, it is also comprised of many covers of Patty’s own material which she re-incarnated to even higher planes of existence.

    And you’re right, the top ten evaluation of MS II and “The List” are not necessarily a reason for inclusion on your collective list, but it is a reason for surprise at their exclusion.

    And I did forget about Kevin’s preference for Patty’s more contemporary music.

    Thanks for the detailed explanations folks, not necessary, but interesting and appreciated.

  10. You’re right that I really like the album in general. I like every album on my top twenty though…and she did make my top twenty, (#11), which isn’t bad in my opinion.

  11. And the PL albums you mentioned, Leeann, I actually love ’em all equally, lol. I do consider each and every Loveless/Gordy album from Mountain Soul on to be masterpieces..;)

  12. Interesting list – my nominee for best album of the decade was left off, but then, this is an Americana list rather than a country music list.

    Also, while I like Ashley Monroe’s album, I can think of several better albums issued this year

  13. Interesting that Underwood and Sugarland are Americana now.:) Really, I get what you’re saying though. What would your top album be?

  14. If it’s the Watson album, I’ll admit that’s one of the ones I never got to. Amid dozens of solid country albums released in any year, there are bound to be a few that slip through the cracks. I love him, though, so I’ll definitely be giving it a spin sometime soon.

  15. It’s an album that I really want to like because so many people that I respect (including Paul) speak so highly of it, but I just couldn’t get into it.

  16. Re: Ashley Monroe – this is partially speculation, but the album’s ranking was probably helped by the fact that it’s had a long time to gestate for Leeann and me (and possibly William). I wasn’t expecting to give it my personal #1 slot. But I’ve loved the whole thing from the get-go, too.

  17. Exactly what Dan said. Also, I think it’s a wonderful representation of how contemporary country music should be executed. For me, it’s artistically solid while remaining very accessible.

  18. Very interesting list. This is my personal top ten.
    1. Eric Church-Carolina
    2. David Nail-I’m About to Come Alive
    3. Tim McGraw-Southern Voice
    4. Todd Snider-The Excitement Plan
    5. Miranda Lambert-Revolution
    6. Luke Bryan-Doin’ My Thing
    7. George Strait-Twang
    8. Justin Townes Earle-Midnight at the Movies
    9. Carrie Underwood-Play On
    10. Brad Paisley-American Saturday Night

  19. Hm I’m pleasantly surprised to see Carrie’s Play On in the top 10! I have to say it’s my favorite album from hers by far and it has more great moments than bad. All in all this was a great list!!

  20. I look forward to seeing Carrie Underwood, Sugarland, George Strait, Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, Ashley Monroe, and Miranda Lambert at the Americana Awards later this year!

    Regarding Patty Loveless, and I admit I’m a bit late to the game here, she remains one of my favorite artists. But I feel like her last two albums have been closer to market-driven genre exercises than anything else. At least Sleepless Nights had the novelty of something that she hadn’t done before, as she wasn’t exactly in the habit of slipping classic country songs on to her albums.

    With Mountain Soul II, she collected some good songs that were performed in the mountain style of its titular predecessor, but out of service to the album concept rather than the songs themselves. With the exceptions of “Busted” and “Children of Abraham”, these songs didn’t really demand such arrangements. In the case of the songs that she’d already recorded before – “A Handful of Dust” and “Blue Memories” – the songs simply aren’t as interesting in their new arrangements.

    “A Handful of Dust” in particular demonstrates my issues with the album. What made Loveless so compelling in the nineties was her ability to infuse contemporary country music with traditional elements presented from a country-rock perspective. She was never a conventional traditionalist.

    This approach made “A Handful of Dust” so powerful in its original incarnation as the opener of When Fallen Angels Fly. When the fiddles first come in on the original track, it has the emotional impact that you’d find when the electric guitar comes in for the first time on a rock track. It demonstrates the contrast between what we are before and after love that the song is trying to convey.

    In its new incarnation, those fiddles are still there, but they get lost in the shuffle because they blend in with the rest of the acoustic, twangy instruments. The emotional power of the songs is compromised in the process, despite the fact that Loveless turns in an excellent vocal throughout.

    I sense that most fans who didn’t quite embrace this album did so because it pales in comparison to the first Mountain Soul, an invitation to compare that is rooted in its title, as Leeann stated. But she invited comparisons to her contemporary work as well by covering songs that she’d done in the nineties. For me, it was that comparison that held me back from enjoying the album.

  21. Thanks for your thoughtful analysis Kevin, one thing that I have learned is that people can love the same artist for completely different reasons, and our differing takes on Mountain Soul II, and to a lesser degree of Patty’s music in general, is a perfect example. The fact that you allowed me to review Mountain Soul II for Country Universe in spite of our profound disagreement is testament to your fairness and generosity as “Editor in Chief” here. Your post here is basically an “Op-Ed” of sorts to my review!

    While some fans perhaps did not embrace MS II because it “pales in comparison” to the original, many critics who liked the original better stated that the follow up was also a great album but did not quite match the orignal. I haven’t read any other critical account that indicated that MS II “paled in comparison.” My take that it was the equal of the original is somewhat of a minority position, but there were several other reviewers who reached the same conclusion. But I think you’re right, there are more than a few fans who did not take to MS II, certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. But I think that statement can also be applied to many of the more obscure albums on CU’s top twenty list here.

    Handful of Dust..To my hearing, the orignal sounds like a pale forshadow of the remake, in retrospect…the fiddles are far less prominent throughout in the original, and Patty’s vocals are far more potent in the remake.

    Patty’s reworking of each of her nineties songs serve as a measure of her progress as a vocalist. She was awesome back then, but has never sounded better than she does today. And I for one am of the school of thought that any Country song can be improved by the Mountain treatment, ie the exclusive (or near) use of acoustic instumentation and the removal of the drums. But I have to admit, I’m a sucker for a well-placed steel guitar in the mix as well. :) I really feel that the Mountain treatment in general, and Patty’s in particular brings these older Country songs to life. This is all the more apparent in Patty’s acoustic concerts..the nuance that can be apprehended in her vocals, especially in this musical setting is incredible. There is nothing more powerful than an artist of Patty’s caliber who is deeply connected to her roots, and who sings from the depths of her soul in the company of acoustic instumentation. No powerful electric instumentation or screaming diva histrionics can compete with such a profound and graceful musical presence.

    Sleepless Nights and Mountain Soul II “market driven genre excersizes”?!? Wow, that sounds like a very cynical statement. Never heard that accusation leveled at PL before. Patty herself has explained where these albums came from. They are true labors-of-love, Patty revisiting the music she grew up with on Sleepless Nights the kind of songs that were near and dear to the hearts of older siblings,and the kind of songs that she herself grew up singing.. and with Mountain Soul II, that project was far more in response to fan demand rather than any marketplace considerations. But MS II, like the original, is a tribute to the kind of music that Patty’s father loved, and that nurtured her musical soul. There are several artists on CU’s list here that are far more driven by market considerations than Patty Loveless is or ever has been.

    “Never a conventional traditionalist” perhaps, but she was far closer to being a pure Traditonalist than any of her female contemporaries. I think your phase “progressive tradtionalist” fits Patty very well. Ha, but I also have a quote from you that I love and used in my MKOC tribute piece to Patty, where you issue a challenge for the reader to name anyone who has done better music in the Traditonal vein. (paraphrase).

    Thanks again Kevin, your post has answered a lot of my lingering questions. ;) It’s good to hear your take on this.

  22. I’m kind of surprised Sarah Jarosz’s debut album didn’t make the cut, as William gave it 4 1/2 stars a while back. That being said, I own most of the albums on this list, which is a testament to what blogs like this have been able to do for the expansion of my musical taste in the past few years. I can assure you had it not been for this blog, I would not know of the existence of the majority of these albums. Here’s to hopefully an excellent 2010!

  23. ” as she wasn’t exactly in the habit of slipping classic country songs on to her albums.”

    Patty was no stranger to the classic Country cover though..She’s covered Hank’s “I Cant’t Get You Off of My Mind”, The Stanley’s “I’ll Never Grow Tired of You” and of course the Jones classic “If My Heart Had Windows”, her first top ten hit.

  24. I just re-read your post and I missed a brilliant observation you made that had never occured to me, the way you tie in the lyrical theme and message of Handful of Dust to the intrumental arrangement:

    “This approach made “A Handful of Dust” so powerful in its original incarnation as the opener of When Fallen Angels Fly. When the fiddles first come in on the original track, it has the emotional impact that you’d find when the electric guitar comes in for the first time on a rock track. It demonstrates the contrast between what we are before and after love that the song is trying to convey.”

    I agree, but I don’t think this is really lost in the remake.

  25. Regarding Patty Loveless, and I admit I’m a bit late to the game here, she remains one of my favorite artists. But I feel like her last two albums have been closer to market-driven genre exercises than anything else …

    As opposed to the totally non-commercially driven offerings from Carri, Miranda, Tim McGraw and Brad Paisley??

  26. As opposed to the totally non-commercially driven offerings from Carri, Miranda, Tim McGraw and Brad Paisley??

    I wasn’t talking about any of those artists, and I didn’t say “commercially-driven”, I said market-driven. The covers nature of Sleepless Nights and the sequel packaging of Mountain Soul II target niche audiences that are more likely to respond to her music these days. There’s nothing wrong with that. I just tend to prefer her music when it casts a wider net.

    The idea that any commercially released music could be “totally non-commercially driven” is ludicrous anyway. If it wasn’t about selling records, they wouldn’t make them in the first place.

  27. “But I feel like her last two albums have been closer to market-driven genre exercises than anything else.”

    Judging from your earlier statements that have shown real appreciation for Sleepless Nights, (albeit with reservations) I think this statemet has cynical implications that you may not have intended. It also makes it seems like you may be trying to blur the lines that elevate Patty above the crowd of commercially sucessful, but less artistically accomplished singers. Or maybe I’m missing the point, it wouldn’t be the first time.

    The “more than anything else” part of your statement practically precludes the idea that Patty did it for the love of the music, her fans and her family. Reasons that again, Patty herself has indicated were her motivations. Market and niche considerations are there perhaps, and of course she needs to make a living, but with Loveless more than many other artists, these are usually secondary considerations. The music she makes is for grownups, artistically mature, soul-nourishing music, hardly the stuff that is real marketable in this day and age.

    And with Sleepless Nights, sure Martina made an acclaimed covers album earlier, but Patty’s album preceded this latest Classic Country covers trend, and the efforts of Tanya, Wynonna, Roseanne, and Lorrie. There were no guarentees that Sleepless Nights would be a commercial success in this “covers” niche, which wasn’t really even a niche at the time.

    And Mountain Soul II was a response to her own fanbase, (as opposed to fans in general) who have been encouraging Patty for years to make another Mountain/Bluegrass record. But of course she welcomes new fans, and there is evidence she is winning them from the Bluegrass commnunity.

    When Patty and Emory went to their label with a proposal for the original Mountain Soul, they were expecting very little commercial sucess. They basically said to each other that even if it was a flop, at least they would have copies to give to their family and friends. Mountain Soul was a response to an inner imperative in Patty’s musical soul. And this inner imperative seems to have been Patty’s primary ( primary, not exclusive) motivation all along, especially from Mountain Soul onward. There are quotes from Patty even in the Ninties that support this assertion.

    No, Sleepless Nights and Mountain Soul II were not mere niche “excersizes”..but you may have a point when you alluded to Sleepless Nights being perhaps an attempt to fill a missing niche in her own catalog. But that does not preclude the loftier motivations that Patty has articulated and that I mentioned earlier.

    SN and MS II are specialty albums it’s true, and many PL fans, existing and potential, would also welcome a more encompassing, but equally rootsy-Country style album. Something along the lines of On Your Way Home and Dreaming My Dreams…but they too were more “labors-of-love” than market chasing efforts.

  28. Mountain Soul II was Saguaro Road’s idea, and the concept for Sleepless Nights may have been as well; I can’t remember. Yes, they were going after a niche market. So what? As you said, there’s nothing wrong with that, so why bring it up? I, for one, am glad that Patty isn’t casting a wider net, because these days that pretty much equates to watered-down, generic radio fodder. Patty knows that her hit-making days are behind her; it only makes sense that she would market her records to the “niche” that is still buying them.

    For the record, I’m not arguing in favor of Mountain Soul II’s inclusion on your list. I would have included it, but I can certainly understand that not everyone is going to like it as much as I did. I was just a bit puzzled by some of the comments that were made.

  29. I agree that the original ‘Handful of Dust’ is more memorable, to me anyway. I think Kevin hit the nail on the nose with his reasoning that Patty Loveless effortlessly combined traditional country with modern elements. In Patty’s case, it was an almost-rock influence – modern at the time. That style made her 90s albums brilliant hybrids of genres, and even innovative.

    And I think she’s the best example of an artist who could combine contemporary with traditional, and for the most part, every country artist in the past 20 years has tried to do that with their music. Three consecutive albums in the 90s from When Fallen Angels Fly to Long Stretch of Lonesome mark the golden era of Patty Loveless music to me. I appreciate the music she’s made since then, particularly Dreamin’ My Dreams, but I’m with the camp that prefers her in mainstream mode. She’s so good at it.

  30. Great points Razor, I too am not arguing for MS II’s inclusion after the fact…just trying to work through my suprise and dissapointment, and trying to understand, that’s all. And also to address some of the statements that I too found puzzling…

    As for the idea for SN and MS II, I think it was both, Patty and Emory and SRR. After Sleepless Nights there were a lot of leftover classics that Patty and Emory had on their list, and were ready to cut. And of course Patty’s fans have been clamoring for years for her to make another Mountain Soul. So, SRR had a poll on their website directed to Patty’s fans, asking us if we wanted another Classic Covers album, or one more like Mountain Soul. Mountain Soul won overwhelimingly. But this responsiveness to her fans is far different than a generalized market-study response. The two options were both projects that Patty wanted to do anyway, and are very consistent with her artistic identity.

    If my memory is correct, Patty and Emory brought the SN idea with them to SRR when they were shopping for a new label. But I too, am a little unclear on this part.

  31. Dang J. R. Can’t argue with any of that, except fo preference, lol. One just cannot go wrong with Patty Loveless. :) The fact that this is one of those debates where both sides are in essence correct and make good points is testimony to the scope and quality of Patty’s work.

    But I still hold that Patty is more motivated by the love of the music than by more commercial considerations. Razor’s right, Patty seems to realize that her radio hit days are pretty much over, and this realization frees her even more to follow her heart.

    But even in her commercial heyday, she (more than most) had a clear and consistent artistic identity, she used to call her Rock and Country style “Traditonal with an Edge”, Kevin has often refered to Patty as a “progressive traditionalist” I like both descriptions.

  32. I don’t mind that Patty is making music that’s market driven. Good for her. MS and SN are still two of my favorite albums of hers, so it’s worked out well for me. I just don’t feel the same palpable connection from Patty on MSII that was definitely present on MS (I wouldn’t guess it was the same labor of love that the first project was), so I’m hoping there won’t be a MSIII unless she works really hard on it, which, by all accounts, this wasn’t the same intense experience that the first MS seemed to be. .

  33. SO I know I’m late to the party, but I’ve still never been able to find Ashley Monroe’s album (even in digital form). Am I looking in the wrong place?

  34. I think you missed the passion and compassion that was put into this record. There was a real heart-connection with this album for Patty and Emory, and the songs here reflect their deeply held convictions. A song of empathetic solidarity with the economically downtrodden, Busted, (and Patty’s comments support this intepretation), songs for the bereaved “Friends in Gloryland” (check out the dedications in liner notes)…this album has real meaning for Patty and Emory. Even the use of the family pump organ is an indication that this is more than a market driven excersize, and is in fact a labor of love.

    Working on a Building is connected with Patty’s affiliation with the Christian Appalachian Project which works to allieviate poverty in that region.

    Again, songs for the impoverished, the bereaved, the imprisoned, and the heartbroken. Sounds more like a prophetic mission, a labor of love, than a market driven excersize.

    I disagree with the premise that MS II is primarily a market driven, and I totally disagree with the use of the word “excercise” to characterize this album. And I disagree with your “all accounts” statement. But we can agree with one thing, if there is another follow up, I too hope they DON’T call it Mountain Soul III ;)

  35. Heck, even “Children of Abraham”, love it or hate it, is evidence MS II was more labor-of-love than market driven excersize. The song was inspired byt Patty’s Grandfather, a Regular Baptist preacher, and her religious heritage. As was the the “call and response” style of “Friends In Gloryland”.

  36. I don’t doubt that she was connected to it, but I didn’t feel the same connection to the music/in the recordings as I did when listening to the first MS. “All accounts” was inaccurate, but the fact that she’s admitted that she didn’t originally plan to do another bluegrass project so soon and that she covered four of her old tunes, not to mention that she included the exact same recording from an older album (“Big Chance”), adds to my admittedly speculative observation.

    Again, I feel that I should say that I liked MSII, but there were reasons that kept me from putting it in my top ten. It probably doesn’t help that her artistic quality is so high that I expect a heck of a lot from her. She has set a high standard for herself. I’m the same way with Vince. I don’t love everything that he’s done (particularly his Lets Make Sure We Kiss Goodbye and When Love Finds You albums), because I expect a certain quality to be delivered by my favorite artists. I’m not just hard on Rascal Flatts.

  37. Just one quick thing, because I’m just a nitpick at some facts! Hah. actually Steve- Mountain Soul I was not something Patty and Emory brought to Epic Records themselves. Emory told her to when she was freed up to do it, but when she included it in the set list in the 90’s, her label heard her and saw the audience reaction and it was actually Epic’s idea to have her do Mountain Soul. They gave her a very small budget and gave a projected sale of 30,000 and under- and she blew them away with the number it actually did sell! :)

    I realy enjoy Mountain Soul II but wouldn’t have included it in my top 20 of the year. While it’s really fantastic, I miss the days of mostly brand new material from Patty Loveless. It’s been a long time since we’ve had that. I loved the cover of “Busted” and “Diamond in my Crown”, but re-cutting her own stuff just was over kill for me a little bit. Just personal preference.

    “Handful of Dust” is really wonderful, both versions, however I don’t care for the vocals on the MS II version- not Pattys vocals, but Sydni Perry’s vocals. Another thing that just isn’t appealing to my ears, so unfortunately, I end up skipping the song :(

    On another note, “Live on the Inside” is INCREDIBLE and Im so happy to see it on this list! Their live show is simply superb!!!!!

  38. Leeann and Country fan, I do understand and appreciate your points, and Kevin too, especially the desire to hear a new studio vs specialty albums from Patty. And Country fan thanks for the factual correction. I have heard (read) that before, now that you mention it, I remember!

    But no matter what the logistics of who decided when to make the original MS, it is undeniable that the project was near and dear to Patty’s heart, and that she was not a newcomer to Mountain/ Bluegrass. (Pretty Polly, Some Morning Soon, I’ll Never Grow Tired of You) And in the EPK for Mountain Soul, Emory says that this project has probably been in the back of their mind since the early sixties or so..(he kind of laughed when he said it ;) )

    Likewise, since MS II is a continuation of the original, it stands to reason that a lot of the same heartfelt motivations were there in making this record as well. I’ve provided evidence to that effect, and believe me I could go into a LOT more detail to support this assertion. But I’ll spare you for now, ;).

    I can understand the perception that MS II is kind of a “thrown together” effort with the recut songs and the four days in the studio process. But remember, inspiration often comes quickly and easily to gifted musicians and musical geniuses (Loveless/Gordy are the Mozarts of Country music in my book) and there was undoubtedly a lot of thought and hard work put into the preparation, as well as long days in the studio. A lot of the songs were cut live without extra track dubbing, and Patty basically just stepped up to that ole timey mic and hit ’em out of the park with each first pitch. I think she and Emory succeeded in getting that spontaneous, “jam session with friends” feeling that they were aiming for.

    And the re-cut songs, don’t forget that Mountain Soul II has 15 tracks, for some context and perspective. And reworking Country songs, giving them a “Mountain- makeover” is something that Patty loves to do, and excels at. She’s been uncovering the hidden Mountain Soul in Country songs since probably before ’01, and she did it a Merlefest and continues to perform her Appalachian alchemy to this day. Not everyone’s cup of tea perhaps, but this is not laziness, far from it. It is creative transmutation, and the result is pure music magic.

    Oh, and “Big Chance” is a perfect fit for MS II, it is a continuation of the Pretty Little Miss story, and is just an excellent song all around.
    We could actually do a song by song matchup with the two Mountain Souls and match them strength for strength, and I think I can make an even better case that the two albums are more of an artistic match than people realize. And arguably Loveless’s vocals are even better on Sleepless Nights and MS II than on the original Mountain Soul.

    I certainly don’t have a problem with some folk’s preference for the first Mountain Soul. But I consider it a challenge that I need to address when folks assert that the follow up pales in comparison to the original, or that MS II was created without heartfelt inspiration from Patty and Emory. The premise of my review was that the two albums are artistic equals. I was warned ;) that I might be challenged for that assertion, and for the five star rating I gave the album. But honestly, I didn’t expect the challenge to come so late and in such an “off topic” manner…really you guys, see what you started? JK, I certainly don’t absolve myself of responsibility here.

  39. I should clear up that I don’t, in any way, think Patty is lazy. I do think, however, that the album may not have been quite as intensively planned as the first MS. Here’s an exerpt from an interview, from the end of September:

    JULI THANKI: It’s been eight years since Mountain Soul came out. How long after that release did you start thinking about a sequel?

    PATTY LOVELESS: Actually, we only thought about it last year. I was out touring in support of Sleepless Nights for Saguaro Road, which was my first record with them. They approached us about possibly doing another record, but prior to their approach I had noticed a lot of people [I met on the road] had collections of various CDs I had done over the years, and the main one that continued to be in their collection was Mountain Soul.

  40. I appreciate the difference and clarification “not as intesively” planned is a good way to put it. Understood. And I do understand that it was kind of a last minute descision, as Patty and Emory were still very much in a Sleepless Nights mindset with a lot of leftover material they could have (and still could) use for a sequel to SN.

    But that does not make MS II mostly a “market driven excersize” or any less a labor of love endeavor. It seems to have been on their back burner for years, but still on their minds and in their heart to do an album like MS II. I think it was only a matter of the timing that was in question.

    And I think you would agree that there’s nothing wrong being responsive to one’s fanbase, especially when such fan demand is in tune with the artist’s own inclinations and creative vision.
    An important distinction beteen that and commecially compromisized catering, and this distinction cannot be emphasized enough.

  41. Steve said: “And I think you would agree that there’s nothing wrong being responsive to one’s fanbase, especially when such fan demand is in tune with the artist’s own inclinations and creative vision.
    An important distinction beteen that and commecially compromisized catering, and this distinction cannot be emphasized enough.”

    You’re right, but I don’t think anyone was suggesting otherwise.

  42. Probably not deliberately, but some of the comments made seemed to blur that fine line and diminish one of the things that makes Patty so great as an artist, at least it came accross that way.

  43. Hey, ACountryFan, you don’t like the harmony vocals on Handful of Dust, seriously? Not sure what you’re listening to, but obviously the award winning producer on the record liked it. I’ll stick with the professional.

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