Thursday, April 16, 2015

Review: ‘Second Hand Heart,’ From Dwight Yoakam, Reckons With Grown-Up Love

Dwight Yoakam is a high-concept classicist. He inhabits an era and geography all his own, a remembered 1960s California where Buck Owens and the Byrds somehow reigned together in harmony. It’s a place and time where a songwriter’s job — forged from exemplars like Hank Williams and Carl Perkins, polished by the British Invasion and California pop and honed by the impatience of punk — was to capture the deepest emotions in the fewest words, preferably monosyllables. In the title track of his new album,“Second Hand Heart,” Mr. Yoakam sings about new romance after bitter experience: “Pick up all those small hopes back off the ground/’Cause after years of tears it’s hard to say what’s up or down/So if you will I’ll try to start/And take the chance that we might fall apart.”

The album is a reckoning with grown-up love, a battle against disillusionment and a big brash stomp. It was produced by Mr. Yoakam with his road band for backup; they did some recording sessions between arena shows opening for the country hitmaker Eric Church. Even the ballads are pugnacious, buttressed by the band’s three-guitar lineup, while Mr. Yoakam’s voice flaunts its rural drawl and holler, breaking into a near-yodel or a rockabilly whoop every chance he gets.

There are scars and misgivings behind the musical assurance. Brisk strumming, a galloping drumbeat, pealing lead guitar and, all of a sudden, a swoop of Beach Boys-like falsetto promise hope as Mr. Yoakam sings, “Your tortured heart’s soft anguished pleas/rescued by love shall be set free” — but, as the song’s title points out, that’s “In Another World,” not this one. And the beefed-up rockabilly of “Liar,” with some of Mr. Yoakam’s most exuberant screams, shouts back at duplicity.

Mr. Yoakam has been releasing albums since 1986, and he was a country hitmaker in the 1980s and 1990s, selling millions of albums, before radio tastes changed. Now he jokes in the Elvis Presley-tinged “The Big Time” that “I ain’t never seen the big time,” but he’s happy just to be “a-sittin’ on the front porch” watching his partner do the laundry. But the album says otherwise: He’s still pushing, still sure of what makes a song alive and durable.

Dwight Yoakam: Second Hand Heart Review

April 14, 2015

Nearly 30 years into his career, Dwight Yoakam has little to prove to anyone. Country radio has long since lost interest in the throwback honky-tonk sound that the 58-year-old has held true to all this time, nor is he going to get a courtesy invite to shake things up on the stages of Coachella or Lollapalooza. That hardly seems to matter to this Kentucky-born legend.
Even with the invite in recent years to add a taste of old-school authenticity to Eric Church’s bombastic arena tours, he’s doggedly staying the course. And from the sound of his new album, he’s moving the needle back to his days in the California music scene of the ‘80s where he would share the stage with likeminded storm-bringers and shit-kickers X and The Blasters.
Second Hand Heart is put together like a great live set. He and his razor-sharp road band kick things off with two barnburners—the stomping “In Another World” and the Byrds-ian “She”—followed by quick dips into balladry, a dancefloor-ready waltz, and other peaks and valleys that draw you in, push you back and leave you sweaty and blissful at the end.
The album also realizes that rare goal of gaining steam and strength as it carries forward. Yoakam and company stuff the back end of Second Hand Heart with the hottest burning cuts like his rockabilly take on the now standard “Man Of Constant Sorrow” and “Liar,” a wailing British Invasion-inspired rave up/kiss off. Even the album closing ballad, a cover of Anthony Crawford’s despondent “Vs of Birds,” smolders so that you feel like you could light a cigarette off its heat.
With many artists of Yoakam’s age and in his similar position, the release of a new album seems almost perfunctory, something to keep the bean counters at their label happy while they head out on the road playing nothing but old material. There’s no such sentiment with Second Hand Heart. Even if Yoakam is still using his songs to sift through the wreckage of broken relationships’ past, he’s doing it with a still-blazing fire in his belly and a huge grin barely hidden underneath his Stetson.

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