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Old 03-28-2012, 12:36 PM   #1083 (permalink)
Trollheart
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Buenos noches from a lonely room --- Dwight Yoakam --- 1988 (Reprise)


I may have mentioned at some point, I used to work in radio. Oh, it was nothing major, just a local community radio station that I worked with for a few years. Probably had a handful of listeners, most of whom more than likely didn't listen regularly, just tuned in from time to time. My show was at one time sandwiched between an Irish traditional music programme and the sports show: I recall once --- true story! --- arriving with my records (no CDs or MP3s in those days, kids!) at the station and the guys running the trad show had a real live band in, and they were, well, playing live in the studio. So while they did what they did I had to climb past keyboards, drums and people seated with fiddles and so on, into my chair behind the desk to get ready for my show! Ah, showbusiness! Can't beat it!

Why do I mention this? Well, the point is (what is the point? Oh yes!) that most of us who were seriously interested in music --- usually the older guys: I would have been around mid-twenties at the time --- and weren't just doing this for the “thrill” or prestige of being a DJ --- sorry, presenter! We weren't allowed to call ourselves Djs; gave the wrong impression --- often spoke about it and swapped experiences, albums, recommendations, much as people on Music Banter do. It was one of the guys there, “Boppin'” Billy (I kid you not!) who got me into Springsteen, when he played “Dancing in the dark”, after which I ran out --- not literally --- and bought “Born in the USA”, and the rest is history, soon to be related when they turn my life story into a movie. I'm forever grateful to him for that.

But another guy mentioned to me that he knew I “like my country flavoured with a bit of rock”, or it could have been the other way around. Either way, he suggested I might enjoy the music of one Dwight Yoakam (oh, that's what this meandering diatribe is about! I see!) and lent me the album “Guitars, Cadillacs, etc., etc.” which I really liked, and thereafter bought it myself (second hand, of course!) along with two others of his. This is his third, and was in fact the first album on which he notched up two number one singles on the country music charts.

I find it a little more mature than the two previous albums, the aforementioned “Guitars” and “Hillbilly deluxe”, which followed it. It's one on which he renews his partnership with Maria McKee, who sang with him on the debut, although here she does backing vocals rather than duet with him, and one on which he also gets to sing with his longtime hero, Buck Owens.

It's not Steve Earle, it's not rewriting the country or rock genre, and to be fair there's nothing terribly new here, but for what he does Dwight does it well. The album opens on “I got you”, a typical country blues bopper in which Dwight bemoans his problems and his mounting bills: ”Got a letter from the folks over at Bell/ Just to let me know for my next phone call/ I could walk outside and yell”, but as long as he has his girl he's okay. Nice bit of guitar and a great line in bass, Dwight's voice that typical Texas drawl but somehow not annoying or whiny as country singers can often be. It's a nice uptempo opener with the sort of blind optimism that sometimes can be endemic to country songs, and it's followed by “One more name”, a ballad with some lovely mournful fiddle and a nice shot of pedal steel (what would a country song be without the old pedal steel?), lightened by some smooth mandolin courtesy of Scott Joss.

Dwight writes most of his material himself, and on this album he writes seven of the eleven tracks, and “What I don't know” rocks along nicely, another of his compositions with more than a nod back to John Fogerty. More great fiddle and a light sense of menace in the lyric: ”What I don't know/ Might not hurt me/ But if I find out/ You've been cheatin'/ What I don't know/ Might get you killed.” Kudos to Don Reed, whose fiddle playing really keeps the country air in even the rockiest of tracks. The first cover version is up next, Johnny Cash's “Home of the blues” given a decent outing, with some pretty damn fine guitar from longtime compatriot and producer Pete Anderson, then the title track is another slow bluesy ballad, another Yoakam original, which recalls the best of the more acoustic Springsteen, like “Nebraska” and “The ghost of Tom Joad”. Great accordion accompaniment by Flaco Jiminez gives the song a very Mexican feeling, and with the title, that's probably the intention. Reed is there again with his versatile fiddle, while Taras Prodaniuk keeps a steady bass rhythm, the heartbeat of the song.

Another cover next, with a rabble-rousin' version of J.D. Miller's “I hear you knockin'”, Skip Edwards' honky-tonk piano conjuring up visions of a redneck bar deep in the south of the south, where they say things like “Hey you! Let's fight!” the response to which is “Them's fightin' words!” Okay, so I ripped that off from the Simpsons, but hell, it's funny ain't it? The fiddle holds court again, and you can't just help but tap your foot to this one. An original tune, things slow right down for “I sang Dixie”, the sad tale of the singer coming upon a man down on his luck, drunk and dying in the street. As no-one else will even stop to help the guy, the narrator sings “Dixie” to comfort the stranger as he dies. Very much a fiddle-led piece into which Dwight intersperses the original song “Dixie”, this was a number one hit for Yoakam in the country music charts. As I said at the beginning, more a mature album than his previous two.

Everything kicks right back up then for “The streets of Bakersfield”, with accordion duties being taken for this track by Francisco “Pancho” Zavaleta, and Dwight duetting with his hero, Buck Owens, who also popularised the song altough he did not write it. It's a fast, uptempo bopper, a short song but really leaves an impression when it's over. It was another number one for Dwight. We're back with his original compositions then for “Floyd County”, a mid-paced rocker with some really nice mandolin and guitar, and of course fiddle from Don Reed. Dwight reunites with Maria McKee (whom the uninitiated will only know from the single “Show me Heaven”, but whose debut self-titled album is a total, ignored classic), with whom he duetted on the debut, though on “Send me the pillow” he takes the main vocal and she's more a backing singer really. Nice piano line and some sultry fiddle, then we close on “Hold on to God”, the last original number on the album. It's an uptempo country, almost gospel rocker, which adds an extra layer to the album and finishes it in some style.

Like I say, no-one's going to be converted to country music by listening to Dwight Yoakam, but you can listen to him as a rocker and not feel embarrassed (if you normally do, when listening to country music): he doesn't exude the usual image many country stars do. Yes, he wears the cowboy hat, but then, what self-respecting country rocker would not? But he writes his own material, pays homage to his peers and has up to now eleven albums. This is not the best of them, but it's a pretty darn fine place to start appreciating the man and his music.

TRACKLISTING

1. I got you
2. One more name
3. What I don't know
4. Home of the blues
5. Buenos noches from a lonely room (She wore red dresses)
6. I hear you knockin'
7. I sang Dixie
8. Streets of Bakersfield
9. Floyd County
10. Send me the pillow
11. Hold on to God
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