Patty Loveless bares her "Mountain Soul"

Jeffrey B. Remz, July 2001

Patty Loveless was not thinking much about Elvis or blaming it on the heart or saying goodbye when it came to recording by far the most varied and different album of her career, "Mountain Soul."

Nope. The 44-year-old Kentucky native was thinking about her roots and a concert from 9 years ago that proved to be the catalyst for the album of country, bluegrass and mountain music done all acoustic with the focus squarely on Loveless' voice.

"'Mountain Soul' is so special to me - the music is so special to me," says Loveless in a telephone interview from Nashville. "The art work is even that much more. I got together with the label, and my management wanted to take me back to my home state for a shoot for the album cover. There are coal miners for the album cover. There is this old, old house that was used as a boarding house from when this particular mine was opened."

"For the inside...the idea was to take some family photos. I got my father's family, my mom's family and put it in the booklet of the CD. There's a picture of my dad whose face is black as soot - he's come home from the mine. I wanted this whole record to revolve around family."

Loveless was born in the far eastern Kentucky town of Pikeville - the same hometown as Dwight Yoakam - and grew up in Elkhorn City, Ky. It was coal mining country, something that ran deep in Loveless' family.

Heretofore, Loveless' career blended between traditional country music and a more contemporary sound with a radio friendly appeal. That means songs running the gamut from "I Think About Elvis" to the tongue twister of a song "Blame It On Your Heart" to the heartwrenching ballad "How Can I Help You Say Good-Bye?" to early number ones "Timber, I'm Falling In Love" and "Chains."

But recent albums did not fare as well, especially last year's "Strong Hearts" where no single really broke.

That happened during a time when the emphasis in the country music industry seemed to be more on the singers who were veering more and more towards a pop sound like Faith Hill and Shania Twain and Billy Gilman instead of the keepers of traditional country sounds.

But don't think Loveless came upon the idea of "Mountain Soul" as a quick fix idea.

The sounds on "Mountain Soul" were nothing new for Loveless.

"It's a variety of music," says Loveless. "It's all acoustic, but it has a blend of what I was doing for (a Ralph Stanley) festival in West Virginia. It has a little bit of country. It has a little bit of bluegrass, but for the most part it's mountainous. It's very mountainous. It's music that I grew up on. It's not just not music of country."

"I grew up also on Molly O'Day (perhaps the most admired traditional female voice of the '40's) and the Stanley Brothers and Bill Monroe. Along with that, there was George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline and then Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs. There's been such a variety and mixture of music I've listened to."

"Probably the first rock and roll person in my life was Elvis," she says. "I don't think I got too far away from my roots."

Ralph Stanley was very instrumental in encouraging Loveless to do the "Mountain Soul" album.

"I've been doing this form of music ever since probably ever since '92 as far as performing it live on stage."

"In '92, I had been working with Ralph Stanley and some things with him on his record, and he had done my homecoming show in '90. It was Vince Gill and Ralph Stanley. So, Ralph came and opened and Vince opened for me in Elkhorn City, Ky."

"In '92, I get this call from Ralph Stanley, and he wants me to do his festival," she says. "I thought the music that I do is going to be an acoustic kind of thing. Emory (Gordy), my husband and producer, says 'You got to do this. You got to do this. He was like a kid in a candy store...He always had a passion for this music. He said we got to learn some bluegrass things. We just had to do a totally different thing."

"We got together a banjo picker and a bass player. Em played guitar. We had a dobro player and also a combination mando/dobro player, Carmella Ramsey and Tim Hensley. We just put it together and learned. We opened with 'The Boys are Back in Town.' (The song opens "Mountain Soul") I learned that song from the Nashville Bluegrass Band and a couple of uptempo things - 'Daniel Prayed' (a Ralph Stanley song), 'Going Up Caney.'"

"We did some more country things that I did - 'Lonely Side of Town,' 'Don't Toss Us Away,' 'If My Heart Had Windows'...The audience (was) so into it. They were yelling 'Jealous Bone,' 'That Kind of Girl.' I said, 'those are all fine songs, but I don't think those this is the place for it.'"

"We also did 'Soul of Constant Sorrow.' We got the tape." (The song also appears on "Mountain Soul.")

"After we got through doing that show, we had such a great time. We listened to it back and looked at each other, and Emory said, 'I would really love to do a record like that with you some day if that's ever possible.'"

Fast track about eight years to a Loveless performance at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.Attending the show were Loveless' managers Ken Levitan and Mike Robertson.

"All last year, I had been breaking down and doing the acoustic thing in the middle of a show," says Loveless. "It had gone over so well. When we did the acoustic stuff, (marketing head) Mike Kraski from Sony and some other Sony people were there. After we got through playing the acoustic thing and got a standing ovation, the people were into it and loving it, he said maybe we should do a whole record like this. It was just in talking and speaking. It's not like you're planning at that point. It's just in conversation."

"After the whole thing was over with, Ken Levitan approached Sony about doing a project like this. They said, "Wonderful. Let's do it at a certain budget. It wasn't a very large budget."

Loveless declined to give the figure.

"Sometimes, we tend to put too much pressure on ourselves. When we cut that, we cut 12 songs in 5 days and did the whole thing in 5 days - vocals and everything. It's not your norm of doing a project for a month or even two or three months and getting a project done. That's a lot of bucks."

The 14 songs on the album were collected over many years with some done as part of Loveless' stage show. "I had been doing 'Daniel Prayed' in my shows for years. I had been doing 'Soul of Constant Sorrow,' 'Two Coats.'"

Loveless feels that "You'll Never Get Out of Harlan Alive" evokes memories of her hometown where the coal mining work day rules and not much happens in a small town. Coincidentally, Brad Paisley cut the Darrell Scott as well for his new album, "Part II."

"I didn't know that Brad had cut it until after the fact," says Loveless. "The reason I was so drawn to the song (was) the song just hit home for me. My father was a coal miner. My grandfather was. It's such a wonderful story that I could picture it all. For some parts of the songs, I feel I've lived it. I enjoy doing songs I feel almost like telling a story about myself and where I come from."

Loveless' father, John, eventually died from black lung disease in 1979.

"Someone I Used to Know," a duet with Jon Randall, was familiar to Loveless because it was done by Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton.

Loveless has a longstanding history with Wagoner. She brought him songs she wrote as a teenager and encouraged her to at least finish high school.

Parton was a big influence on Loveless as well.

"That has always been a favorite of mine," Loveless says of the song, adding, "I was wanting to almost copy the same thing they did. That's why I wanted to use Jon Randall as a duet. I love the idea of doing it as a duet. Jon was the voice I thought was perfect for it."

Travis Tritt, who sang with Loveless on "Strong Heart," also participates with a duet on "Out of Control Raging Fire." While considered more of a country outlaw type, Tritt actually has a strong love of bluegrass.

Does "Mountain Heart" signal a permanent musical shift for Loveless?

"I'm going to continue to do what I had been doing," she says shortly before flying to Boise for a concert. "This is sort of like an addition of what I have been, more than one or two songs that had been on my album. If you took all the electric instruments from my record, this is what you would get. Vocally, I'm still the same."

"I just feel really comfortable that I've gotten to where I can do different styles, and it fits the venue. It fits the location. If it's bluegrass, if it's country, if it's rock and roll, country rock is the way I'll put it, blues, that real hillbilly sound to me. I think it's cool to be a hillbilly. It's just from the area where we come from and the are we've been raised on all these years."

© Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •