Published Apr 17, 2015Dwight Yoakam recorded Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc. Etc., his debut record for Reprise Records, back in the late 1980s, when radio country music was awash in self-parody and music-by-numbers arrangements. And, I'm here to tell you, it felt like a giant cresting wave sweeping across the desert when I first heard it. A landmark in the growing alt-country sub-genre (but also a massive hit with mainstream country, too), that album remains on the essentials list.
For Second Hand Heart, his 19th studio album, Yoakam has returned to the label that gave him his start. It can't help but feel like a message. Thirty years later, it's another landmark, his best record in years. Maybe decades.
It's true; Yoakam has always maintained an uneasy relationship to mainstream country music. This heir to Buck Owens is also the spiritual scion of Gene Clark (and it's hard to imagine his sound without the punk influence he picked up in 1980s L.A.). In other words, Yoakam has always been as much influenced by the jangle of '60s rock as he has the playful abandon of punk and the sincerity of '70s country, and on Second Hand Heart, this quintessential alt-country combination reigns supreme. This is a hard-rocking, sing-out-loud, air-guitar-in-the-mirror kind of country record, from the melody-forward opening tracks ("In Another World," "She" and "Dreams of Clay," earworms all) through to the Hamburg Beatles-meets-X rockabilly blender of "Liar" and "The Big Time."
Too bad the album's weakest track, "Believe," shares its melody with Pearl Jam's "Given to Fly." It's distracting, and annoying, since it's just about the only thing that's wrong with this thing. (Reprise)