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No matter what happens in my life, I will always have a mountain soul," reveals Patty Loveless with a warm sigh. "The first music I ever heard was from the mountains of Kentucky, where I grew up, and that mountain music is still very much with me."
Indeed, it is that plaintive sound of the Kentucky hills Patty embraces on her new CD, appropriately titled Mountain Soul. The album digs into her roots with an all-acoustic collection of purebred bluegrass and mountain music.
"This is a very special record to me," proclaims Patty. "That mountainous influence in my voice was really portrayed on this record, so I really couldn't have called it anything else."
Except, possibly, Labor Of Love - since it fulfills a dream Patty first experienced almost 10 years ago. She recalls playing a Kentucky festival in 1993 with bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley, one of her earliest heroes.
"We went totally acoustic," she remembers, "strictly bare-bones, and did some old mountain songs like 'The Boys Are Back In Town' and 'Soul Of Constant Sorrow,' which are both on this album.
"My husband, Emory, who's also my producer, told me he'd love to do a whole record of this kind of music with me. I had done songs like 'Don't Toss Us Away,' which has that mountain influence, on other albums. But I knew I had to get a little further along in my career before I could take an idea like this and put it on a record."
Now, further along in a stellar career, Patty can certainly flash some heavy credentials - including 1996's CMA Award for Female Vocalist of the Year and such No. 1s as "You Can Feel Bad" and "Lonely Too Long." But she can't help thinking Mountain Soul is still a bold move.
"It does seem awfully brave right now," she declares, "since traditional music is having such a hard time getting accepted on radio."
On the other hand, Patty points to the success of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the million-selling movie soundtrack album loaded with bluegrass and roots music.
"From that movie, people learned this music isn't always sad and mournful, which is what I used to think," confides Patty with a chuckle. "It's not sad - just soulful. And I believe people also like the honesty of the music. The music of the mountains is a little more free and laid-back, but the most important thing is that it has a lot of history. It's about our past."
To help capture that vintage style, Patty enlisted some modern-day masters: Travis Tritt, Jon Randall and Ricky Skaggs. Patty and Travis blended their distinct voices on a pair of duets, "Out Of Control Raging Fire" and the bluegrass classic "I Know You're Married (But I Love You Still)."
"I've always been a fan of Travis' voice. When he takes a country song, he can milk it better than any cow!" exclaims Patty with a rollicking laugh.
"Seriously, I knew Travis loved bluegrass and figured he would be right for this. We had sung together on the Grand Ole Opry's 75th birthday and it really went over well."
Another true highlight for Patty was the chance to re-record "Sounds Of Loneliness," a song she wrote when she was 14. "I cut the song in my basement, and it appeared on my very first album in 1987," she notes.
"This time, I recorded a different version - all acoustic," explains Patty, adding that the song is also featured in the new Songcatcher movie. "I felt it was important for this to be on the record because it talks about missing the mountains. It was also one of my dad's favorites."
Patty pauses for a moment, collecting herself as she mentions her father, John Ramey, who died in 1979. He was the man who instilled in her the love of music, introducing his daughter to the sounds of Ernest Tubb, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs and the Wilburn Brothers. She dedicated Mountain Soul to her dad and her mom, Naomi.
"I've always wanted to cut an album like this for my father," says Patty wistfully. "He loved this form of music. And he was the one who took me to my first music show. We went to see Flatt & Scruggs at the Pollyanna Drive-In theater in Pikeville, Ky., and after that, I knew what I wanted to do.
"I always felt," she adds, "that it was just a matter of time before I would have the opportunity to do a record like this."
But doing this record doesn't mean she's leaving modern country behind. "I'm not going to quit doing what I always have been," assures Patty. "This is more an addition to what I'm about."
"I am so excited about this!" she says. "I really feel like I was born to make this album."