Dwight Yoakam Population: Me

Kicking off with the rousing perverse "The Late Great Golden State,” Yoakam’s first album for his own label after 17 years at Reprise shows he’s still committed to preserving a classic country sound, while at the same time injecting some modern sensibilities. The song could suggest a little bitterness at his recent fortunes at the hands of the business, but the album’s overall brightness says more about Yoakam’s desire to return to the glory days when he, Steve Earle and Randy Travis were single-handedly credited with saving country music in the 1980s. As on those classic albums, Yoakam’s songwriting here moves from strength to strength; "An Exception To The Rule” is built around a strong Clarence White-like guitar riff, "If Teardrops Were Diamonds” is tailor-made for guest vocalist Willie Nelson, and the title track has obvious Hank Williams overtones. Also as always, sharing the limelight is guitarist/producer Pete Anderson who digs deep into his vast bag of tricks to capture great sounds. While Yoakam’s reverence for his influences may never grant him similar status, his music is still 99 percent better than everything else Nashville is putting out right now. Population: Me has more than enough to bring about the career rejuvenation Yoakam has been seeking. It certainly deserves a place alongside his best records. (Audium)