I used to have a friend who believed that no good music had been made after 1974 or something like that. Even though I often agreed with him, I didn't really want to end up being one of those middle-age cynics who waxed poetic about some distant heyday. Still, my music collection consists of lots of old stuff, much of it even before my time, and I rely on it when listening to new stuff. So somewhere, in the back of my mind, I'm always thinking: yes, this is pretty good, but how does it match up against the great stuff of the past?
Perhaps it's unfair, but it nonetheless seems inevitable. So when I come to a new disc like Patty Loveless' Dreamin' My Dreams I drag in a lot of my own personal musical baggage. There's my love of great country singers who got there start back in the '60s, like Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette, and then there's the fact that Loveless, just a few years back, was one of Who's Who among popular country singers (which rests just below rap in my loathing). I temper this, though, because I also know that just a few years earlier Loveless enjoyed a critical renaissance with the release of the rootsy "Mountain Soul". And finally, I couldn't ignore the new album's title-Dreamin' My Dreams-which referenced a Waylon Jennings' classic from 1975 (exactly 30 years earlier).
My hopeful skepticism took a turn for the worse when I placed the CD into my computer drive. Not because of the music, but because of the fact I couldn't play the damn thing before I agreed to allow Epic/Sony to download software on my computer to keep me from copying the disc more than three times. The agreement, like the kind Microsoft uses, was too long to read, and I really-at the moment-didn't understand what was going on, so I finally removed the CD and placed it on the other CD player in my office. This was unfortunate, because now the sound would be coming at me from the side and I really wouldn't be able to enjoy the production or mixing.
The first thing I can say without reserve is that Dreamin' My Dreams is much, much better than earlier Loveless albums like The Trouble With the Truth from 1996 (also, her hair looks much better now). She gives the impression, for the most part, that she's isn't too worried about radio play or competing directly with Faith and Shania (no singles from the album, released in August, have charted). The ballads especially stand out. Old Soul has lovely chord-changes, a good mix of electric and acoustic elements (nice mandolin, soulful electric guitar), and a vocal that digs deep into the emotion of the lyric. I really enjoyed her take of Dreaming My Dreams With You, and prefer it, in fact, to Jennings' version (which included a string arrangement). Nobody Here By That Name is also a nice song, though the lyric seemed a little more typical to me (my wife, on the other hand, loved it because "it's a female version of It Ain't Me Babe").
I didn't like the bigger production of the upbeat numbers like the opener, "Keep Your Distance," and "Same Kind of Crazy as Me." The heavy guitars and Loveless' open-throated style on these songs wouldn't be out-of-place on country radio and CMT. I did, however, really enjoy the acoustic portion of Dreamin' My Dreams. Starting with the ninth track, a duet with Dwight Yoakum on Never Ending Song of Love, Loveless and friends break out the acoustic instruments and go native. The high-stepping Never Ending Song of Love and Big Chance would be perfect for Saturday night flat-footing, while My Old Friend the Blues and When I Reach the Place I'm Going close the album on a mellow note.
I like Dreamin' My Dreams, but it still isn't the kind of album I'd break out very often. Even with good songs and solid vocals, Emory Gordy, Jr. and Justin Niebank's production is too heavy and bright, too tied to the current Nashville sound for my taste. A case in point is the hidden track, a version of When They Ring Those Golden Bells for You and Me. It's a roughly recorded, stripped-down version, with only voice and guitar, but it nonetheless has an air of authenticity that's lacking on the rest of the album. Given the choice, what I'd really like to hear is Patty Loveless recorded by an old-country producer like Tompall Glaser. Then, I feel, we'd be getting to the heart of what made those '60s and '70s country albums I love so much great.
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