With a voice like a wrecking ball made of honey, Patty Loveless tears into the opening lines of Harlan Howard’s 1962 classic “Busted,” the first song on Mountain Soul II, the long-awaited continuation of the critically acclaimed 2001 album that laid bare the Kentucky coal mining roots of the gold-selling, three-time CMA award winner. “Well the bills are all due and the baby needs shoes, we’re busted,” Loveless sings, accompanied by seamlessly matched acoustic guitar, Dobro and fiddle. “We’ve had a hard time since they closed down the mines, we’re busted.” Singing Howard’s original lyrics, which Howard himself gave to Loveless’ husband and producer Emory Gordy, Jr., Loveless returns the song to the coal mines, away from the cotton fields in the versions sung by Ray Charles and Johnny Cash. But for Loveless, it doesn’t matter where the song takes place—she is seeing its relevance every night she sings it on tour.
“Whether it is about coal mining or cotton or the auto industry, or anything else, more and more jobs are being lost these days and there’s a lot of people facing being busted,” Loveless says. “I certainly have seen those days before. Sometimes you get so low you have to look up to see bottom. And sometimes it takes that to help you pick yourself and dust yourself off.”
That straightforward spirit of faith and determination runs through all the songs of Mountain Soul II, which officially hits outlets September 29. Featuring an extraordinary collection of musicians—including Del, Robbie and Ronnie McCoury, Carl Jackson, Bryan Sutton, Mike Auldridge, Emmylou Harris, steel guitarist Al Perkins, and 16-year-old vocal powerhouse Sydni Perry—the album was cut quickly in Nashville, and retains the interwoven, swaying spontaneity of incredible musicians singing and playing together. “It was a wonderful four days,” Loveless laughs.
Cut at the behest of fans who wanted more of the bluegrass, Appalachian and country combination of the first Mountain Soul album, Mountain Soul II feels more like an extension than a recreation. Drawing from her childhood experience of singing in the Old River Baptist Church where her grandfather preached, Loveless leads the band with her time-stopping, powerful voice through the melodies of such classic spirituals as “Working On a Building” and the haunting, a capella “Friends in Gloryland,” which leads seamlessly into “(We Are All) Children of Abraham,” penned by Loveless and Gordy.
Loveless follows the three-song gospel set with the rollicking good time of “Big Chance,” also penned by her and Gordy. “Oh, mama, daddy, can’t you see? Holler’s closin’ in on me,” Loveless sings. ”Cousins pourin’ down like rain. They’re runnin’ out of given names.”
Humble, raucous, spiritual and plainspoken, Mountain Soul II is a stripped-down musical and vocal tour-de-force, and a fitting tribute to the people and music that shaped Loveless from an early age.
“I find myself able to reconnect to that time and revisit this kind of music,” Loveless says. “It is stories about real people and real lives, and stories of history. I think if there is a song in your heart and your soul, it is a way of getting out of your worries and woes. It can be sorrowful but it can be uplifting to be share about your life. And it’s a way for people to get away from their troubles. Early on in the tour, I would say, ‘Thank you for being here. I know times are hard.’ But then I thought, I don’t need to remind them of this. They don’t need to hear that from me. I just need to entertain them, let them escape for a while. What I need to do is give them the music.”