In the face of diminishing commercial and critical returns after a decade-long streak of both (having scored 19 Top 10 hits between 1988 and 1996 and winning the Country Music Association’s Album of the Year award in 1995 for When Fallen Angels Fly), country star Patty Loveless’s career underwent a sea change in 2001. Reconnecting with the music of her childhood in the coal-mining territory of Eastern Kentucky, Loveless released Mountain Soul, as perfectly-titled an album as has ever been recorded and a landmark album that plays like a sociological study of a region of the country rarely given the kind of insight, care, and passion she showed. It’s among the best albums released thus far this decade in any genre, and Loveless, always one of the best hard country singers in Nashville, had never sounded better. For her follow-up, 2003’s On Your Way Home, Loveless incorporated her new role as the standard-bearer for mountain music into her existing role as one of country’s best interpreters. If lacking the relative depth of Mountain Soul, the album handily outclassed the rest of the country mainstream’s output, and On Your Way Home landed on a slew of year-end Top 10 lists in the popular music press.
Loveless’s latest offering, Dreamin’ My Dreams, follows in the same vein, and Loveless has found a comfortable middle-ground between her peerless brand of mountain soul and the sunny pop-country of her commercial heyday. Because she rarely writes her own material—she and long-time producer/husband Emory Gordy Jr. co-wrote just one of the 12 tracks here—Loveless’s albums succeed based on the thematic coherence and the consistent quality of the songs she chooses. Unfortunately, Dreams isn’t as start-to-finish impressive as its predecessor. It’s surprising that the songs don’t impress more strongly, considering the talent behind them (Richard Thompson, Steve Earle, Jim Lauderdale, and Lee Roy Parnell), but tracks like “Same Kind Of Crazy” and “My Old Friend The Blues” ultimately sound cliché-ridden, rather than timeless, particularly when placed alongside stronger offerings like the old-timey “Big Chance” (the track Loveless and Gordy penned), the stirring admonition of lead single “Keep Your Distance,” or her weary interpretation of “When I Reach The Place I’m Going.” Still, Loveless’s vocals, backed by Gordy’s restrained production, elevate even somewhat lacking material above the bulk of what Nashville’s current A-list can produce on their best days.