Sweet Dreams: Her Complete Decca Masters (1960-1963)
Hip-O Select's 2010 double-disc set Sweet Dreams: The Complete Decca Masters (1960-1963) gathers all of the 51 master takes Patsy Cline recorded with Owen Bradley after she left 4 Star Records for Decca in 1960, running right until her tragic death in 1963. This is the first time all these master takes have been issued in a complete set, which is hard to believe because they form the core of Cline's legacy. Patsy had been recording frequently since 1954 when she first signed a deal with 4 Star, but the label's president, Bill McCall, insisted that she only recorded songs for which he owned the publishing rights, a restrictive deal that resulted in only one hit, the classic career-making "Walkin' After Midnight." This was a fluke not due to Cline's talent, but to the dross she had at 4-Star, material that couldn't be saved even with her increasing partnership with producer Owen Bradley. Once at Decca, Cline continued to work with Bradley and the pair soon hit upon what became Cline's signature sound: a lush, gorgeous, string-laden setting, equally indebted to Nashville and classic big-band pop, one that pushed her supple vocals to the forefront. It was a sound that wasn't classically country, at least in the honky tonk sense, but it pushed country closer to pop, providing the blueprint for generations of crossover country singers. This lasting legacy gives the impression that Cline was more popular -- and recorded more music -- during her prime than she actually was, when she really had about two years of popularity, highlighted by the singles "Crazy," "I Fall to Pieces," "She's Got You," and "Sweet Dreams (Of You)." All these are here, along with a 1961 remake of "Walkin' After Midnight," sitting alongside a bunch of big band ("The Wayward Wind," "You Belong to Me," "South of the Border (Down Mexico Way," "Bill Bailey, Won't You Please Come Home") and country standards ("San Antonio Rose," "Blue Moon of Kentucky," "Faded Love," "Crazy Arms"), with the former slightly outweighing the latter, sometimes overshadowing the newer country originals by Harlan Howard, Mel Tillis, and Don Gibson, among others. As a whole, these master takes surprisingly favor the big band over country, paying enough of a debt to her influences (particularly Jo Stafford) to suggest a talent in ascendance, not full-fight, but in away that only makes Cline's legacy resonate more deeply. Given time, she would surely have achieved more, but what she did in the 28 months documented here is create the sound and style of the modern country-pop singer, an achievement that resonates strongly throughout the big-band echoes here.