The honky-tonk mainstay is back with the freewheeling, rollicking Second Hand Heart.
Dwight Yoakam began his music career in 1986, a time when country was going through an urbanized sea change. Since then he’s released over a dozen studio albums, and Second Hand Heart is just as at odds with what’s popular as his first couple records were. But unlike his previous work, he doesn’t feel like getting sappy about lost loves or time slipping by – he just wants to party.
Through the decades, Yoakam has garnered a rep for his love of Chuck Berry licks and rock and roll at large. The vocal melodies in “Believe” are dead ringers for Led Zeppelin’s swaying “Going To California”, and Yoakam’s excellent rockabilly cover of “Man Of Constant Sorrow” may as well be telling Tchaikovsky the news. Rocking-est of all, opening track “In Another World” sounds like a Steve Earle greatest hit – it’s brazen, it’s loud, and it’s come to have a good time. But Yoakam isn’t just recycling the same rock ideas over and over. “Liar” features some boisterous hobo harp playing, and the heavily reverbed drums in “Believe” initially make it sound like a John Cougar Mellencamp outtake.
He also delves into the myriad of styles that comprise the broad country umbrella. “Off Your Mind” is a 1-and-3 bass heavy rambler, dressed in all black like it’s going to a funeral. But “Dreams Of Clay” is the beachy cousin of George Strait’s best apology songs, and “She” is a straightforward rocker in the vein of Hank Williams Jr.’s less southern fare.
But you can’t forgive the man for quieting down and getting sentimental on a couple of tracks. “Dreams of Clay”, a sad acknowledgement of a love that just doesn’t work anymore, has the same sad earnestness that made Conway Twitty famous. Album closer “V’s Of Birds” brings the whole band – including sublime mandolin, organ and piano work – into the mix to turn winter migration into a grand metaphor for human restlessness.
Perhaps the best aspect of each song is Yoakam’s own voice, with its youthful Dewey Cox-aping affectations. His youthful, joyous cries make him sound 30 years younger – like a more excitable Dierks Bentley. He yips and yodels in every chorus, most notably in “The Big Time” where he does his best Elvis impression in lamenting his own lack of mainstream success. If fame for Yoakam meant Second Hand Heart wouldn’t be around, well, we’re glad he’s not packing stadiums. It’s a record full of songs about living in the boozy moment, forgetting about ones that got away and lives that weren’t lived. Country so often focuses on loss and sadness that it’s exhilarating to be gifted a chunk of music that fits so perfectly in your grandpa’s ’65 Thunderbird convertible. Rock on, Dwight.