Mountain Soul (Epic)

Album for 8-17 to 8-23
Album review for 8-17 to 8-23

As a little girl in the eastern Kentucky town of Pikeville, Patty Loveless was surrounded by the music of the hills: a high, lonesome sound shaped by the grit of the coal mines, the dirt of the fields and the wind whipping through the hollows. Though Patty later moved to Nashville and became a country star, the music of her youth was always present - in one or two songs on each album, in the acoustic segment of her shows and always, always in her voice.

Now Patty has made her first full album of traditional acoustic music, and it sounds like a homecoming. Mountain Soul is vibrantly evocative of the joys and sorrows of Appalachian life, from the giddy jubilation in "The Boys Are Back In Town" to the heartache of "Cheap Whiskey" to the reliance on the rock of religion in a handful of gospel numbers.

The album's centerpiece is her version of Darrell Scott's "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive," a staggeringly powerful epic about a coal-mining family. Listeners won't have to know that Patty's father died of black lung disease to know she feels the story in her bones.

Mountain Soul's closing number couldn't be any more appropriate: "Sounds Of Loneliness," which Patty wrote at age 14 and previously recorded on her self-titled 1987 debut. Amid the music's insistent drone, you can hear Patty reconnecting with her teenage self, discovering all over again that she wasn't so naive back then, and that the world a little Kentucky girl once knew is still not so far away.

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Other performers include Rodney Crowell, Patty Griffin and Jason Isbell.