Acoustic Music, Bluegrass Music, Saturday Soundtrack
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Mountain soul

Each year at the Country Music Association awards show, Chris Stapleton finds a way to remind the CMA of all that its missing with the paint-by-numbers approach of the latest radio-tested fad.

This year, he did it again in a wonderful duet with the country music legend Patty Loveless on the mournful You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive.

Loveless came out of retirement to sing the song with Stapleton at a concert earlier this year for flood relief in their native state of Kentucky. This version last Sunday quieted the CMA party audience as a real master of the music was recognized and honored by one of the industry’s biggest current stars.

Here’s a take on the performance from The Bluegrass Situation.

Patty Loveless reminded us why she’s still a hero to traditional country and bluegrass fans during a rare performance with Chris Stapleton at the CMA Awards on Wednesday night. Loveless included the poignant composition on her landmark 2001 album, Mountain Soul, an acclaimed record that still holds up. Look closer and you’ll see that Darrell Scott, who wrote the song, is playing Dobro on this performance, along with Deanie Richardson on fiddle and Morgane Stapleton on harmony.

Stapleton deservedly won the CMA Award for Male Vocalist during the show, but his greatest accomplishment of the night may be been placing a six-minute Appalachian ballad in the middle of a mainstream country show, not to mention inviting Loveless back into the spotlight. She’s no stranger to the CMA Awards, of course, having won back-to-back Female Vocalist trophies in 1995 and 1996, in addition to Album of the Year honors for 1994’s When Fallen Angels Fly. She later collected another one for 1997’s “You Don’t Seem to Miss Me,” which she recorded with one of her own heroes, George Jones. It’s a touching moment to now see Stapleton paying homage to an artist who has made her own mark on country music throughout the decades. And it goes without saying that any time that Patty Loveless wants to make another album, we’re here for it.

And Rolling Stone had a nice feature as well, noting that…

The performance began quietly, with only hushed instrumentation before Loveless’ powerful voice took hold. As the song swelled volume, so did the urgency in her voice, giving the narrative about the economic struggles and human costs of coal mining communities a heavy, mournful feeling. Stapleton howled and growled here and there, but mostly ceded the spotlight to a true country legend.

Stapleton once fronted the bluegrass band The Steeldrivers, so this was not unfamiliar territory for him. However, these CMA special performances that include Stapleton often feature unexpected pairings, beginning in 2015 with the first, a still-talked-about feature of Tennessee Whiskey/Drink You Away with Justin Timberlake.

In 2018, Stapleton and Maren Morris join the incomparable Mavis Staples in singing Friendship (written for Pops Staples) and I’ll Take You There. Stapleton is playing one of Pops’ guitars for this performance. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Mavis Staples is an American icon and national treasure.

In 2021, Stapleton and Jennifer Hudson took us all to the black Baptist church. Good Gawd!

I generally don’t listen to commercial country music and I don’t watch the CMA awards. Yet I’m always pleased to discover, in the days following the show, what Chris Stapleton and the producers have pulled off to surprise us. While these are performances that remind us of how much commercial country music is missing the boat, thankfully this cross-genre collaboration happens all the time in small clubs and in live performances when you have talented musicians willing to push the boundaries. I hope Chris Stapleton keeps on pushing them.


More to come…


Image of Chris Stapleton, Patty Loveless, and Morgane Stapleton (credit: ABC)


I am David J. Brown (hence the DJB) and I originally created this personal blog more than ten years ago as a way to capture photos and memories from a family vacation. After the trip was over I simply continued writing. Over the years the blog has changed to have a more definite focus aligned with my interest in places that matter, reading well, roots music, and more. My professional background is as a national nonprofit leader with a four-decade record of growing and strengthening organizations at local, state, and national levels. This work has been driven by my passion for connecting people in thriving, sustainable, and vibrant communities.

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: November observations in More to Come… | More to Come...

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