Thursday, October 4, 2012

REVIEW: Dwight Yoakam - Three Pears

For a lot of us who monitor the indie music world, it would be possible for Dwight Yoakam's Three Pears to get lost in the shuffle of excellent September releases - but that would be a shame. There's still nothing like a Dwight Yoakam album... has it really been 26 years since Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc. Etc.? More to the point, seven years since Blame the Vain, his last studio album full of Yoakam songs?

First question, to get to the point: is it worth the wait? The answer is an unqualified hell yes. The quality is, as always, excellent. Yoakam leaves no detail to chance - but the music never sounds overly "produced" - there's always an edge. Here's a live performance of the title cut, co-written with fellow celebrity and country convert Kid Rock:

Yoakam said he was sitting on that song for years and years, and had a thought to reach out to Kid Rock to see if he'd help finish it. It's not surprising that Yoakam had a song that another songwriter could help him finish in one sittting. There is nobody else who inhabits so fully the place where good country and good rock music meet...really, the place where both of them started out together in the 40's and 50's, and incorporates all the best features of both.

Check out "Rock It All Away" - a combination of Yoakam's pitch-perfect country vocals, a strong rhythm section and what sounds to me, like a very well-done reprise of the Velvet Underground "Sweet Jane" guitar lick:

On "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke" (a 50 year old Bakersfield guitar rave-up originally done by Joe and Rose Lee Maphis - if interested, check it out here), Dwight and his band really, really let go -

Apparently, it has been a live Yoakam choice for a while, which makes sense. But on the record, they really rock out, and let loose with a scream reminiscent of Bob Weir's in "St. Stephen". The scream reminded me of a time I saw Yoakam in concert, and he was introducing his version of "Some Dark Holler": "We're gonna do an old song I've known a long time. Heard it on my grandma's radio. A lot of people done it. The Grateful Dead done it. But we ain't gonna do it the way the Dead done it."

And yet, of course, Yoakam's a part of the California music scene in every meaningful way - not only has he covered the Dead and recorded songs they also recorded, but he got his start playing with California punk, rockabilly and rock bands... after giving himself a musical education in the Bakersfield style of country music.

And then there's his new musical compatriot Beck Hansen. Three Pears finds Yoakam paired with Beck, who I've thought of as a bit of a kindred spirit to Yoakam - if you doubt Beck's country bona fides, I urge you to go listen to his duet with Emmylou Harris on "Sin City" on the Gram Parsons tribute album Return of the Grievous Angel, and his cover of "Your Cheatin' Heart" on the Hank Williams tribute Timeless, not to mention his supersad, superslow Sea Change, a feast of sad vocals and guitar reverb.

But here Beck is bringing a razor-sharp pop sensibility that is very much in line with Yoakam's own. This really is a good pairing... Here is "A Heart Like Mine", the song produced by Beck:

Like the best of Yoakam's music, it rocks like a freight train and wails like a hurricane, while featuring pop touches - British invasion backbeat and guitar jangle - worthy of two of the very best craftsmen working in any branch of popular music these days.

There's "Missing Heart" - an absolute overdose of great pedal steel, the playful "Waterfalls", and the title cut, which Yoakam describes as having been inspired by John Lennon.
This is a great record, up there with the best work Yoakam's ever done, which means it's up there with the best work anybody's doing. It's likely to reside near the top of my list at the end of 2012.

Listen, read, buy: Dwight Yoakam Website

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