critic’s pick 271: dwight yoakam, ‘second hand heart’

dwight yoakam“I’ll buy you a ticket to the big time,” beckons Dwight Yoakam near the conclusion of his new Second Hand Heart album. “Might need a loan, but that ain’t nothin’ new.”

How very typical. With a mile high heart and sense of reason that is almost morosely honest, Yoakam again asserts himself as one of the last great hopes of contemporary country music. Now, just how ready a Nashville marketplace obsessed with odes to beer, beaches and pickups will be for Second Hand Heart is a different story.

On his second album since re-signing with Reprise Records, the label that co-piloted Yoakam’s career during the ’80s and ‘90s, the Kentucky born, California reared country stylist rocks out with a lean, live sounding set that could have been cut in 1969 instead 2015. Eight of Second Hand Heart’s 10 songs, in fact, are premium blasts of electricity that favor the almighty power chord. It’s like listening to early’70s Elvis cross-referenced with The Who.

“You ought to record this just for kicks,” Yoakam barks into the microphone as the diabolically fun Liar gathers its propulsive wits and rips out of the starting gate. The resulting music, ushered in by howls of delight and a power pop charge weirdly reminiscent of The Monkees is a pure electric hullabaloo. But on She, the darker Byrds-meets-Led Zeppelin reflection Believe, Second Hand Heart’s title tune and the album-opening In Another World, Yoakam honors the guitar riff for a feel both anthemic and immediate.

The show stealer among this mayhem is the record’s lone cover tune, a version of the well worn country roots staple Man of Constant Sorrow refurbished with a heavy dose of cowpunk spunk. The arrangement owes more to Jason and the Scorchers via Chuck Berry than, say, Ralph Stanley. But the rootsy drive of Yoakam’s singing – a mischievous, modern slant on a traditional mountain tenor – allows for a country authenticity that makes the garage rock backdrop glisten.

Second Hand Heart slows only for Dreams of Clay, a mid-tempo mood piece that recalls both the twang of Yoakam’s hit ’80s cover of Honky Tonk Man and the guitar jangle of his ‘90s hit cover of Suspicious Minds, and the orchestral sweep of V’s of Birds, the only tune on the album that tips its hat a touch too deeply to sentimentalism.

Admittedly, there is almost nothing here for country radio to latch onto. Second Hand Heart is too playful and rustic in the way it hotwires country tradition for today’s Nashville to care. But, to be blunt, the record is also too smart. Three decades into the game, Yoakam remains the most daring country ambassador since Merle Haggard. Second Hand Heart is earnest, vital and exquisitely honest proof.

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