Patty Loveless’s first MCA single appeared exactly two decades ago, at the dawn of the New Traditionalism that swept aside Nashville’s syrupy Urban Cowboy era. A decade later, the midpoint of a dark decade when Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood et al. cynically regurgitated vapid ’70s pop as multiplatinum country, “You Can Feel Bad” became Loveless’s biggest hit. Contrarianism remained her forte as she and producer-husband Emory Gordy embraced albums as her medium.
Dreamin’ My Dreams wisely makes no attempt to compete with past masterpieces such as Long Stretch Of Lonesome, Mountain Soul or On Your Way Home. It instead summarizes Loveless’ twenty-year artistic journey through nine well-chosen contemporary numbers, three covers of older songs, and a hidden track. Her vocal passion intensifies the weary resignation of Lee Roy Parnell and Tony Arata’s powerful ballad “Old Soul”. Similar power permeates the thoughtful “When Being Who You Are Is Not Enough” (with a token Emmylou Harris harmony vocal) and the snarling Gary Nicholson/Delbert McClinton rocker “Same Kind Of Crazy”. The austere acoustic approach to “On The Verge of Tears” and the raw traditional bluegrass of “Big Chance” equal any of her great moments.
The covers are a mixed success. She and Dwight Yoakam have a ball with Delaney & Bonnie’s 1971 country-rock hit “Never Ending Song Of Love”. Tackling the majestic ballad “Dreaming My Dreams”, one of Waylon Jennings’ definitive moments, is another matter; her reverence for the song works against her performance, resulting in a disappointingly cut-and-dried interpretation. A similar problem dogs her revival of Steve Earle’s Guitar Town favorite “My Old Friend The Blues”.
Even so, given the way many New Traditionalists have faded, it’s reassuring, in an era far friendlier to such sounds, that Loveless and Gordy’s quest for substance and integrity prevail.