Patty Loveless has a name that advertises her product better than any review. A familiar contraction – no big city full names here – and a little back-porch sentimentality. This must be Country Music: home to the peddle steel and the line dance. Yes, listen and the arrangements shine with rustic tokens. Peddle steel, hollering backing vox, fiddle, mandolin, banjo. And hear the words: songs called things like My Old Friend the Blues, Never Ending (Song of) Love, Same Kinda Crazy.
The names and clich�s wouldn’t be an issue but for the feeling – and it’s hard to avoid – that they’ve been added to conceal the absence of anything genuinely country in the enterprise itself. Dreaming My Dreams is not country, it’s AOR in a rhinestone suit. Loveless has a number of distinguished collaborators here: Steve Earle wrote My Old Friend the Blues, Joe Henry (who co-wrote Madonna‘s countryrific Don’t Tell Me) did When I Reach the Place I’m Going, but their presence only confirms the sense that Loveless is going through the motions. Of course there are some country faces, and of course the platitudes come out, but when crying “keep your distance”, Loveless sounds about as maudlin as Kermit the Frog. In any case, her misery is enveloped in a sugar syrup of compression and chirpy slide. She has a scratchy fiddle – all broken and old – but it’s tidied up into a cheerful, smoothed-out hum.
The large problem with Nashville studio production is that real country has an obviously uncommercial aesthetic. It’s about betrayal, and heartlessness, the gothic terrors in the corner of your eye, the search for dignity in a world which denies it. In songs about mistakes and unfulfillment, bum notes and fluffed vocals are kind of the point. They are not here. The record screams only for radio acceptance by people who want to like country – Patty’s biography calls her a ‘down home girl finding herAmerican dream’ in music, which is admirable no doubt – but who don’t know or like what it really is.
Loveless has a successful career behind her, of sorts. Her first album came out in 1986 – which was both fortunate and unfortunate, for while Nashville still loves the eighties, the taste of the eighties was no friend to Nashville. She’s had fourteen top-ten hits and we can expect more from this record, if not in Britain. But if there really is a ‘down home girl’beneath this professional veneer, she would do well to find a Rick Rubin or a Jack White to rescue her from the modern Opry’s house of horrors. There’s a glimpse of this when Loveless is joined by the unimpeachable Emmylou Harris, who brings a rare simplicity to When Being Who You Are. It’s really affecting, a wistful, beautiful lament – even if it is also an ironic mess, endorsing unaffected truth-telling on an album which tells quite the opposite.