My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: Emory Gordy Jr.

Album Review: Patty Loveless – ‘Dreamin’ My Dreams’

patty loveless - dreamin my dreamsDreamin’ My Dreams was the last album Patty Loveless recorded for the Epic Nashville label before they closed shop. Some of their artists went to the Columbia Records roster.  Patty instead took a two-year hiatus from touring and recording before going the indie route, signing with Suguaro Records in 2008.  She has since recorded two albums for the label.  While this would be her last album for Epic, Patty delivered nothing less than a first-class set of songs, with some contemporary flavor, well worthy of radio airplay, as well as her signature bluegrass and rootsy album staples.

Though the lead-single, ‘Keep Your Distance’ is as good a track that’s been shipped to radio this decade, it failed to chart, and Epic didn’t release any follow-up singles. The single, written by Richard Thompson is a snappy number with some great guitar licks and a sing-along melody.

She slows things down with Lee Roy Parnell and Tony Arata’s ‘Old Soul’, my favorite track on the set.  The tale of a young heart who, after being hurt and down-trodden by life, is wise beyond her years.  The haunting arrangement and the ache in the vocal combine to make for a punch to the listener.

Laugh too little and you cry too much
Way too long without that gentle touch
Weight of the world resting down in your bones
Pretty soon you’ve got an old soul

Likewise, ‘Nobody Here By That Name’ is reminiscent of her 90s hits.  Smart lyrics, flawless vocals, and a strong-woman spirit underscore the melancholy lyrics. Listening to the song, it’s evident that this is another Tony Arata cut; it’s very much in his style, and he co-wrote this with Pete Wasner.

The album gets back to the tempo with ‘Same Kinda Crazy’, a jazzy-rocking number, later recorded by George Strait.  The tale of two kindred spirits is told with a ferocious vocal from Patty.  ‘Dreamin’ My Dreams With You’, the almost-title track was written by producer-extraordinaire Allen Reynolds.  The song has also recorded by Alison Krauss and Waylon Jennings, among others.

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Album Review: Patty Loveless – ‘On Your Way Home’

onyourwayhome2003’s On Your Way Home marked Patty Loveless’ return to mainstream country, following her critically acclaimed bluegrass album Mountain Soul. She and producer Emory Gordy, Jr. revisited the formula that had worked so well for them in the nineties, combining traditional country with the best contemporary songs they could find, drawing upon writers such as Paul Kennerley, Marty Stuart, Rodney Crowell, Ronnie Samoset, Matraca Berg and Jim Lauderdale.

Things got off to a strong start with the lead single, a cover of Rodney Crowell’s “Lovin’ All Night”. Her three previous singles had failed to chart, but radio initially seemed happy to have Patty back in the mainstream and added “Lovin’ All Night” to their playlists. Patty sounds more energized on this track than she had in a long time, and her version easily trumps Crowell’s own recording. Though it was her strongest showing on the charts in years, “Lovin’ All Night” stalled at #18, which seemed to indicate that Loveless was past her commercial peak.

The second single was the beautiful title track, written by Ronnie Samoset and Matraca Berg. Had it been released about a decade earlier, it would have been a huge hit. That it only climbed to #29 on the charts is nothing short of criminal. Similar in style to Loveless’ earlier hits “Here I Am” and “You Don’t Even Know Who I Am”, “On Your Way Home” manages to sound contemporary yet country, without being overproduced or drowning in pop overtones. Its failure to gain traction at country radio can be partially attributed to the format’s increasing tendency to embrace fluff and reject substantive songs. It might have gotten a warmer reception if it had been released by a younger artist, but it is hard to imagine any other vocalist who could have sung this song with the passion and emotion that Loveless does.

Epic released one more single from this set — “I Wanna Believe”, written by Al Anderson, Gary Nicholson, and Jessi Alexander. Peaking at #60, this was the last time Patty Loveless appeared on the Billboard country singles chart as a solo artist. I probably would have released the more radio-friendly Jim Lauderdale, Buddy Miller and Julie Miller composition “Looking For A Heartache Like You” instead of this one, though it likely would not have fared any better on the charts. “I Don’t Wanna Be That Strong” is the most contemporary song on the album and seems like another good candidate for a single release, but in all likelihood, Epic was unwilling to invest any more money promoting this album, given the lukewarm reception the previous singles had received.

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Album Review: Patty Loveless – ‘Mountain Soul’

patty loveless - mountain soulAfter 2000’s lackluster Strong Heart failed to chart any significant or memorable hits for Patty Loveless, she took a different approach with the material for her next record.  But these songs were really nothing new to Loveless, who had been including one or two of these sort of rootsy chestnuts on each of her mainstream albums for the past decade.

She’d also long been including them in her live shows, recalling at the time, “I was doing it during my shows, about three, four songs. The people would come up and ask, ‘where can we get this kind of music?… that song that you did?’, and I would say like, ‘I haven’t recorded it yet..’ So I said, well, this is something I want to do. And, for those folks that are going to be listening, or looking out for some of the more acoustic type of mountain blues, or mountain soul.. is what I’m calling it Mountain Soul.

So for her sixth album for the Epic label, and her eleventh overall, Patty Loveless returned to her Appalachian roots and the acoustic instrumentals and harmonies associated with bluegrass music.  The resulting album, recorded in Lepier’s Fork, Tennessee, featured an all-star cast of guests, contributing vocals and instrumentals.  Though it peaked at #19 on the Country Albums chart, it did go to #5 on the Bluegrass Albums chart.  Additionally, Mountain Soul made many critics year-end lists in 2001 as the best album of the year, and marked the beginning of a series of traditional and classic-sounding albums from Patty Loveless spanning this decade.

The disc leads off with ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’, which was also the lead-single, though it failed to chart.  It’s a rousing number, with a plucky banjo mixed in with some tap-your-toes fiddling from Stuart Duncan.  This is an arrangement that frames many of the tracks on Mountain Soul.

A second single featured Travis Tritt.  The haunting tune, written by Kostas and Melba Montgomery is a tale of two lovers who are rekindling the fires of their relationship, but also bringing back the heartache that came with it:

Pain has no memory when you burn with desire
The flames grow higher and higher
Till we’ve reached an out of control ragin’ fire

Despite a major push from the superb music video being in heavy rotation on CMT, this single too failed to chart.  ‘Out of Control Raging Fire’ was also previously recorded by Tracy Byrd.  Travis Tritt also appears on ‘I Know You’re Married (But I Love You Still)’, a bluegrass standard which sounds admirable in the pair’s hands.

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Mountain country magic: A tribute to Patty Loveless

Photo by Nicole Spaller,

Photo by Nicole Spaller,

When we announced Patty Loveless as our Spotlight Artist, all of us here at My Kind of Country were very excited about the opportunity to write about one of our favorites.  In past months, we’ve brought in Guest Contributors to help out with the reviews.  But this month, all the reviews were snatched up pretty quickly by the regular staff, so we didn’t have room for our guest writer friends to share their thoughts with you on Patty’s albums.  But we have one reader who is admittedly a bigger fan of Miss Patty Loveless than any of us and he came up with his own idea for an article, just so he could be part of October’s Patty coverage.  Stephen Fales, who you will all know as Steve from Boston, composed the following piece as a tribute to his favorite singer.  We’re glad to have him as a Guest Contributor here at My Kind of Country, and hope you enjoy his tribute to a peerless artist.

– J.R. Journey

No one has done more to bring the mountain sound to modern country music, and few with such compassion and grace as Patty Loveless. There have been accounts of fans trying to thank Patty for the profound impact that her music has wrought in their lives, and all they were able to manage were tears when they tried to speak. Patty, with genuine humility and understanding, attributes this transfomative effect to “the power of music”. Indeed, music is a divine gift, the language of the angels and of the heart. But this is not just any music, and Loveless is not just any singer.

Patty Loveless has been blessed with one of the purest, most authentic and profoundly resonant mountain-country voices in the music world. It is an echo of her own empathetic heart, and seems to emanate from the very depths of her Appalachian soul, and the voice of Patty Loveless touches people right to the core of their being.

Loveless’ warm Appalachian alto is rich and expressive, and her gentle Kentucky drawl and twangy mountain timbre come as naturally to her as breathing. Her skillful phrasing, measured melisma, and mature sense of nuance convey a depth of emotion that is extraordinary, almost otherworldly. She is a true vocal virtuoso and knows both restraint and abandon. Patty Loveless inhabits the heart of a song, and has no need to resort to histrionics or ostentatious vocal gymnastics. She is all about the music, and allows her music to speak for itself.

At times Patty’s musical pendulum swings deeply to the countryside, as with her album Sleepless Nights and at others, to the mountainside, with offerings such as her Mountain Soul albums, but she never settles for the middle road of mediocrity. On the contrary, Loveless has found her golden mean with a unique mountain blend that combines the best of both traditions. This is best exemplified on her On Your Way Home, and Dreamin’ My Dreams albums, but it is pervasive throughout her catalog. It is real mountain-country music, and Loveless is perhaps it’s most inspired and accomplished practitioner.

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Album Review: Patty Loveless – ‘When Fallen Angels Fly’

fallenangelsHot on the heels of the success of 1993’s Only What I Feel,  Patty Loveless and Emory Gordy Jr.  headed back to the studio to record her sophomore album for Epic Records.    A lot was riding on this follow-up album; Patty’s album sales had been inconsistent throughout her career up to that point and she needed to prove that she could deliver the commercial goods on a regular basis.

I’ll admit to being slightly concerned when “I Try To Think About Elvis” was released to radio in July 1994 as the advance single to When Fallen Angels Fly. A semi-novelty tune, it was a departure for Patty and it was one of her least traditional singles to date. Loveless herself expressed some reservations when the song was initially pitched to her, but she agreed to record it after songwriter Gary Burr changed some of the lyrics to be more female-oriented; substituting high heels and hairdos for boxing and football. Though slightly hokey, it is a fun and infectious song that I grew to like more and more as it climbed the charts. It eventually peaked at #3. It occurred to me as I listened to it again recently, that it is an early example of the much-maligned “list song” which has become increasingly popular in mainstream country music in recent years. However, “Elvis” manages to get through its list of items in a much more clever manner than most contemporary list songs.

Though I got over my initial aversion to the lead single, it was still a relief when the album finally hit stores in August, and proved to have plenty of the traditional-type songs for which Loveless had become famous, in addition to some more contemporary numbers. After the silliness of “Elvis”, Loveless turned serious for her next single “Here I Am”. Led by an acoustic guitar and some subtle pedal steel, Loveless sings the image-rich lyrics beautifully, showing both restraint and power, where appropriate. Today’s female artists would be well advised to study this record and take note of how Loveless handles the soaring bridge, with power and emotion, but never oversinging:

Honey, I got over you passing me over a long time ago,
And my pride was stronger when I was younger
Now I’d rather have you to know,
That here I am …

“Here I Am” earned both critical acclaim and commercial success, reaching #4 on the charts. It is one of two songs on the album written by Tony Arata. His other contribution is the opening track, the inspirational “A Handful of Dust” which Loveless recently revisited for her Mountain Soul II project.

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Album Review: Patty Loveless – ‘Only What I Feel’

Only What I FeelAfter the breakthrough of Honky Tonk Angel, it must have been very frustrating for both Patty Loveless and her label that her career seemed to have plateaued. The next two albums, 1990’s On Down The Line and 1991’s Up Against My Heart, did not sell as well, and although her singles were still charting, they were not as consistently successful as those from Honky Tonk Angel. Patty believed she was not a priority for MCA, which had a number of other high-profile female singers including Reba McEntire. She negotiated a release from the label and signed with Epic.

A further delay ensued when as she began recording new material for her Epic debut, it became clear that her vocal cords had suffered serious damage, and if nothing was done, her career could be over. She underwent surgery at the Vanderbilt Voice Center, which saved her career. Indeed, if anything, her voice sounded even better afterwards than it had done at the outset of her career, with greater depth. She returned to the studios with husband Emory Gordy Jr as producer, and the result was a very accomplished mixture of commercial appeal and artistic achievement. Only What I Feel was released in April 1993.

After all this, and the fact that her last MCA single had stalled at #30, it was vital that her first single for Epic re-established her as a star. It certainly did that, because the vibrant ‘Blame It On Your Heart’ (written by Kostas with the legendary Harlan Howard) was Patty’s first #1 since ‘Chains’ hit the top three years earlier. The attitude-filled lyric has Patty showing no sympathy for her ex:

“Blame it on your lyin’, cheatin’, cold dead beatin’, two-timin’, double dealin’, mean mistreatin’, lovin’ heart”

So far, radio had showed more enthusiasm for Patty’s up-tempo material, and sadly the reception for the beautiful ballad ‘Nothin’ But The Wheel’ was tepid, the single only just squeezing into the top 20. It remains one of my personal favorites of Patty’s recordings, and was also nominated by several readers as their favorite in our recent giveaway. The song, written by John Scott Sherrill, paints a very visual picture of a woman driving away from her old life, with nothing to show for it, and Patty’s sad, measured vocal realizes the desolation underpinning the lyric perfectly:

“The only thing I know for sure
Is if you don’t want me anymore
I’m holding on to nothin’ but the wheel”

Patty bounced back into the top 10 with the beaty up-tempo pop-country of ‘You Will’, written by Pam Rose, Mary Ann Kennedy and Randy Sharp. The song’s production has not worn as well as most of Patty’s records, with slightly intrusive backing vocals, but it was definitely radio-friendly. The album contained other tracks which were potential radio fodder in the same style, the brightly assertive poppy ‘How About You’, and my favorite of the up-tempo numbers, ‘All I Need (Is Not To Need You)’, with its semi-hopeful lyric about trying to get over someone.

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Album Review: Patty Loveless – ‘Honky Tonk Angel’

Honky Tonk AngelPatty Loveless’ third album, released in 1988, marked her real commercial breakthrough. It was her first gold-seller (and eventually reached platinum status), and it also built on her growing success on country radio. No less than five of the ten tracks were released as singles – an unusually high number at the time. It is a testament to the strength in depth of the material that every single one was a top ten hit.

Whereas Patty’s first two albums had been co-produced by Tony Brown with Emory Gordy Jr, this time Brown took sole charge, and he delivered a commercial, radio-friendly record with enough traditional influences to fit perfectly with the tune of the times. The title alone was something of a statement of intent, as a phrase which does not appear on any of the lyrics of the songs, but one which called to mind Kitty Wells’ 50s classic ‘It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels’. A predominantly up-tempo set of material drew on Patty’s rock-singing past and her mountain background, intermixed with some soaring ballads which showed off her beautiful voice and emotive interpretative ability.

The opening track, and lead-off single, was the beaty country-rock ‘Blue Side Of Town’, written by Hank DeVito and Paul Kennerley. It was followed by the pleading ballad ‘Don’t Toss Us Away’, written by rock musician Bryan MacLean, and previously recorded by the country-rock group Lone Justice featuring MacLean’s sister, future pop star Maria McKee, on vocals. Brown’s production and Patty’s vocals transformed it into a pure country song, one which allowed Patty to stretch out vocally and show how she could emote, supported by Rodney Crowell on harmony vocals, as she begs:

Don’t toss us away so thoughtlessly
It just ain’t right
Oh can’t you see
I still love you
I want you to stay
Darlin’ please, don’t toss us away

Patty’s first #1 single was the engaging up-tempo ‘Timber I’m Falling In Love’, one of several tracks here to benefit from Vince Gill’s prominent harmonies. It was also the first #1 for its writer, Kostas. The same combination of Kostas as writer, Patty on lead, and Vince Gill on harmony (together with bluegrass vocalist Claire Lynch) was responsible for the fourth single, the full-blooded ballad ‘The Lonely Side Of Love’. Only reaching #6, it was the least successful of the singles from the album, and is one of Patty’s less well remembered songs today, but it is still a fine recording.

Kostas wrote a third track on the album, the loungy ‘If You Think’, which is beautifully interpreted by Patty as a love song with an underlying hint of sadness as the protagonist defends her love against her lover’s doubts. The final single was my favorite, as Vince Gill’s harmonies again helped ‘Chains’ to the top of the chart. The downbeat lyrics about a woman emotionally tied to a hopeless love are married to an effervescent sound which is utterly irresistible.

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Album Review: Patty Loveless – ‘If My Heart Had Windows’

ifmyhearthadwindowsSigned to MCA in 1985, Patty Loveless enjoyed some modest success on the singles charts, which did not translate into album sales by the time her eponymous debut disc was released in 1987. Her second album, released in 1988, didn’t fare much better at retail, but it did provide a much needed breakthrough at radio. Like its predecessor, If My Heart Had Windows, produced by Emory Gordy, Jr. and Tony Brown, is an album strictly in the neotraditionalist vein.

The album starts out strong, opening with Karen Staley’s “So Good To Be In Love”, followed by the catchy “ Working Man’s Hands”. The third track, “You Saved Me”, written by Curtis Wright, was the album’s lead single. Though it is a decent song and Loveless’ performance is solid, it seems like an odd choice to launch a new album by an artist who had yet to have her commercial breakthrough, particularly considering that there were much stronger songs on the album to choose from. Not surprisingly, “You Saved Me” performed about as well as Loveless’ previous singles, reaching #43 on the Billboard country singles chart.

The title track is a cover of a 1968 George Jones hit, written by the legendary Dallas Frazier. Loveless’ emotional performance, as well as the song’s traditional arrangement and simple message, as expressed in the chorus – “if my heart had windows, you’d see a heart full of love just for you,” resonated with audiences. Released as the second single, it provided Loveless with her first big radio hit, peaking at #10. Loveless would perform this song later in the year at her Opry induction. Hot on the heels of this success, MCA released a cover of Steve Earle’s “A Little Bit In Love”, which was an even bigger hit, climbing all the way to #2. Strangely, this song is somewhat forgotten today, and was even overlooked when Patty’s first Greatest Hits package was compiled in 1992.

The next track on the album is an excellent cover of Hank Williams’ “I Can’t Get You Off Of My Mind”. The most uptempo song on the album, featuring a rollicking honky-tonk piano track and a superb vocal performance, it is both the highlight of the album and a missed opportunity. Why this track wasn’t released as a single is a mystery; by the late 1980s, the neotraditionalist movement had completely taken over country music and this is the type of song that would likely have done very well on the charts.

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Album Review: Patty Loveless – ‘Patty Loveless’

patty loveless - debutA teenager of 14, Patty Loveless first came to Nashville with her brother Roger in 1971. Roger had a job on one of the most popular shows of the day, the nationally syndicated Porter Wagoner Show.  Brother Roger arranged a meeting with Wagoner one day, and after hearing her sing ‘Sounds of Loneliness’, Porter offered his help to the teen and invited her to tour with his road show, which included Dolly Parton, on weekends and during the Summer, encouraging her to finish school while she pursued her dream of a singing career.

Then, one fateful night at the Grand Ole Opry in 1973, Jean Shepard was caught in a flood and couldn’t make it to the Ryman, so promoter Danny King called the Rameys, Patty and Roger, who appeared on the Opry that night and caught the attention of Doyle Wilburn.  This meeting would lead to her first publishing deal with Sure-Fire Music, and she went on tour with The Wilburn Brothers from 1973 to 1975, while Doyle was grooming her to replace their former leading female singer, Patty’s distant cousin Loretta Lynn.  When she graduated in 1975, she did just that, becoming a full-time member of the show.  In the meantime, she met and fell in with the group’s drummer, Terry Lovelace.  Doyle Wilburn told them to end the relationship, not wanting the band members to date one another, but instead, Terry and Patty quit the band, got married, and moved back to his hometown in North Carolina, where she played the rock club circuit for a while.  It was from the name Patty Lovelace that she adapted her stage name of Patty Loveless.

Patty Loveless came back to Nashville for the second time in 1985 to try her hand at country music.  This time again with brother Roger in tow to help his little sister work her way into the music business.  As the story goes, Roger Ramey pretended to be someone else who was late for an appointment with MCA executive Tony Brown in order to get in the office to meet the A&R head.  Once he got in there, Brown gave him 30 seconds to sell him on what Roger called “best girl singer to ever come to Nashville”.  Ramey played him Patty’s recording of ‘I Did’, and Brown was impressed, but told Roger he’d get back to him.  Still bluffing – the man must have a great poker face – Roger told Tony Brown he needed an answer that day because they had another label wanting to sign Patty.  Tony had a quick meeting with label head Jimmy Bowen while Roger waited in his office.  When Brown came back it was with a short-term, singles deal.

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Spotlight Artist: Patty Loveless

patty lovelessWe are delighted to announce that Patty Loveless is our Spotlight Artist for October.

Born Patty Ramey in Kentucky in 1957, a coal miner’s daughter like her distant cousin Loretta Lynn, Patty started singing when, aged 12, she replaced her older sister in a duo with brother Roger. While still in her teens, she came to the attention of Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, who encouraged her musical ambitions, before becoming the featured female vocalist with the Wilburn Brothers, following in Loretta’s footsteps. At 19 she broke away when she married the band’s drummer Terry Lovelace (a variation of whose name she adopted as her stage name), and she spent the next few years in North Carolina, singing a mixture of rock and country.

In the mid 1980s, as her marriage was failing, Patty found herself returning to the country music she had grown up on. Her brother Roger became her manager, and he got a demo tape to Tony Brown, head of A&R at MCA. Brown was impressed, and Patty was signed to the label in 1985, initially on a singles-only deal. He brought Emory Gordy Jr on board as co-producer, which was to prove the start of a personal and professional partnership which has endured to this day, and underlies much of Patty’s commercial and artistic success. Emory and Patty were married in 1989. Critically acclaimed right from the start, Patty’s commercial success developed more slowly, but by 1988, her singles were starting to hit the top 10 on a regular basis, and she was invited to join the Opry.

A major turning point came in 1992. Patty had just moved from MCA to Epic when she became aware that her vocal cords had been damaged. A potentially career-ending problem was averted by surgery which actually left her voice sounding better than ever. The records Patty Loveless released for Epic achieved new heights both artistically and commercially, and she was to be one of the most successful female country singers of the early and mid-1990s. She was named CMA Female Vocalist of the Year in 1996, and the ACM gave her the same honor in both 1996 and 1997.

Her radio success began to wind down in the late 90s, partly because the tide was starting to turn in a more pop direction. Patty also took a year or so off due to her husband’s serious illness. She released a bluegrass-based project, the original Mountain Soul, which was critically acclaimed, but neither this nor her more conventional country appealed to country radio as they deserved to, and Patty left Epic in 2005.

Patty then signed to Saguaro Road Records, for whom she has now released two excellent albums: her tribute to traditional country music, Sleepless Nights, which was many critics’ selection as album of the year in 2008, and most recently, Mountain Soul II.

During her career, Patty Loveless has shown an almost unparallelled ability to combine traditional country and bluegrass influences with contemporary sensibilities. We hope to share some of the highlights of Patty’s career with you over the next month.

Album Review: Patty Loveless – ‘Mountain Soul II’

mountainsoul2Country radio’s love affair with Patty Loveless began winding down around 1997, with the release of the single “You Don’t Seem To Miss Me”. The record met with resistance by some radio program directors, who requested the release of an alternate version, without the harmony vocals provided by George Jones. Loveless refused to remix the record; it stalled at #14 and she never again had another Top 10 hit. Her commercial appeal may have waned, but freed from the constraints and pressures imposed by radio, Loveless has blossomed as an artist and released some of the best music of her career. In 2001, she released a critically acclaimed bluegrass album, and this week, Mountain Soul II, the long awaited sequel, finally hits store shelves.

Though mostly acoustic, the subtle use of some non-bluegrass instrumentation — electric guitar, pump organ, and pedal steel guitar — prevent Mountain Soul II from qualifying as a true bluegrass album, and Loveless and her label, Saguaro Road Records, have been careful not to refer to it as such. In press releases, they describe it as Appalachian, bluegrass, and country combined. Regardless of the label, it is a worthy successor to Mountain Soul, and unlike many sequels, it holds its own against the original.

Many of the players from the original Mountain Soul — Jon Randall, Rebecca Lynn Howard, and of course, Loveless’ producer and husband Emory Gordy, Jr. — are back on board this time around. Loveless is also joined by special guests Del and Ronnie McCoury, Vince Gill, and Emmylou Harris.

The opening track and lead single for the album is a cover of the Harlan Howard classic “Busted”. Recorded many times in the past by artists such as Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, and John Conlee, Loveless’ version restores Howard’s original lyrics, which contain references to coal mining, rather than cotton farming, referred to in the other recorded versions. The lyrics were originally changed at the request of Johnny Cash, but coal mining is a better fit with the acoustic arrangement and bluegrass harmonies provided by the McCourys. Even better are the vocal performances that the McCourys contribute to the old standby “Working On A Building”, which is the most purely bluegrass song on the album.

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