Dwight Yoakam reached out to various pop culture influences, including the Beatles, to craft his newest album, “3 Pears.”
Influences are not a surprise for this fan of Yoakam who first learned more than 20 years ago that Dee-Wight was able to successfully blend Bakersfield with Americana with Bluegrass with Rock-n-Roll and with Nashville. Really, not so much Nashville, but more the other stuff.
This new work from Yoakam, an Ohio-raised kid born in Kentucky, is a return to the fresh sounds we learned to love with “If There Was A Way,” “This Time,” “Hillbilly Deluxe,” and “Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.” – just to name a few of his early albums.
“3 Pears,” with its clever play on words, is the essence of what country music was before bubble gum ass clowns invaded recording studios in central Tennessee.
It is no surprise we hear echoes of Buck Owens, but the album contains the genes from George Jones and Haggard and Cash.
“It’s never alright, it comes and it goes. Oh, it’s always around, even when it don’t show. They say it gets better, well I guess that it might, but even when it’s better, it’s never alright.”
Yoakam’s advice is that it when it comes to a broken heart it gets better but it’s never alright. That’s simply the next generation of guitar strings telling us we’ve fell into a burning ring of fire, or that Mama tried to raise me better, or the early stanzas of the man who eventually stopped loving her today.
To continue the connection, like Cash welcomed Stevie Wonder and other outside-the-societally-safe performers into his orbit, Yoakam reaches into the creativity of Beck and Kid Rock to help infuse this newest incarnation of the Yoakam sound. Beck produced two tracks (“A Heart Like Mine” and “Missing Heart”), and Kid Rock collaborated on “Take Hold of My Hand.”
If you listen close, the Eagles are in there. Am almost certain I heard Bob Seger. In a few places, a big band sound is teased, suggesting the great Glenn Miller might elevate an eyebrow of appreciation.
Not only does Yoakam capture history, he connects with the present in “Waterfall,” the piece influenced by The Beatles.
“Babies get born even in a war
I guess just to show us just what living’s for.”
It’s a whimsical song that isn’t when the lyrics sink in. Yoakam, in a few words, simplifies the essence of human nature in this screwed-up world.
“And my heart still believes that love,
for what we need can be enough,
if we’ll just stop keeping score.”
The folks with bar tabs near the right studios in Music City will likely say the previous praise of Yoakam is hyperbole and that talent and quality and country music heritage is about record sales and reality shows and whatever they say it should be. Maybe so, but being from small town America, all I know is what connects deeper than religion.
Several years ago Yoakam interviewed Merle Haggard about the various influences on their versions of country music. Haggard explained that the Bakersfield sound was from the bar rooms and saloons, and Nashville’s sound was from church music.
“And then the bar room music joined up with the church music and went on to what we got,” Haggard said.
“Whatever it is,” Yoakam said with a laugh.
And it’s that simple. Yoakam’s “3 Pears” works if on your way to church, leaving a bar, or doing both at the same time.
And this is a return to not only Yoakam’s impressive early writing and performing ability, but possibly a step beyond into a collection of sounds and lyrics that arguably captures American music heritage. This is not country or pop or folk. It’s truly Americana.
Country music purists may not like it for that reason. But a music lover will appreciate it, and likely will be grateful that Yoakam continues to not give two flips about what enthuses focus-group derived marketing strategy.
Dwight isn’t afraid to push beyond his genre to mix in a Jackson Browne-sound with the reprise version of “Long Way to Go.” With nothing but the black and white of piano keys in support, Yoakam says he’s got a long way to go “before he gets there.”
Maybe so, but he’s awfully damn close.