PATTY LOVELESS

"Dreamin' My Dreams"

Epic

Patty Loveless's new album, "Dreamin' My Dreams," opens with a wavering steel guitar phrase and a long, held-out "Oh," as if the singer were unsure whether to give an old lover a second chance or not. Then the honky-tonk band behind her kicks in, and she recovers her resolve, telling her ex to "Keep Your Distance." The song was written by the British folk-rocker Richard Thompson and memorably recorded by Buddy & Julie Miller, but here it reveals its true identity as a hillbilly classic of broken marriage and moving forward.

That track sets the standard for an album that rivals Lee Ann Womack's "There's More Where That Came From" as the best country release of the year thus far. Loveless discovers the down-to-earth, honky-tonk side of such left-field writers as Thompson, Steve Earle, Jim Lauderdale, Delaney Bramlett, Joe Henry and Delbert McClinton, and she finds the risk-taking side of such Music Row writers as Tony Arata, Leslie Satcher, Allen Reynolds and Thom Schuyler. Emory Gordy Jr., Loveless's longtime husband, bassist and producer, provides arrangements that strike the right balance between the Appalachian sparkle of fiddle, mandolin and dobro with the barroom punch of steel, bass and drums.

Loveless's voice is as big and buttery as ever, but she wields it more wisely now than in her hit-making days. She captures the giddy lust of a teenage girl on "Big Chance," a song she wrote with Gordy, but hints at angry resentment and sad resignation as she describes how quickly a teenage bride can age on "Old Soul." The title track was originally cut by Waylon Jennings, but Loveless puts a female spin on this confession of lingering affection for an ex-spouse. Emmylou Harris sings harmony on "When Being Who You Are Is Not Enough," but it's Loveless who recaptures the essence of Harris's early albums on this sad but steely declaration by a wife who will no longer pretend to be someone else.

-- Geoffrey Himes

Appearing Thursday at the Birchmere and Oct. 14 at the Rams Head Tavern.