“Maybe You Like It, Maybe You Don’t,” is the last track of Dwight Yoakam’s new CD A Long Way Home. The sentiment pretty much sums up his approach to music. Dwight stays with what he knows, and what might sound god-awful corny from a less skilled musician comes across as sincere and musical. It is a known fact that country music sucks – with a few notable exceptions: Clint Black, Hal Ketchum, Lyle Lovett, Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Although most would argue that Hal, Lyle, Jimmie, and Dwight cannot really be counted as country. Whatever your opinion, what these artists have in common is a commitment to traditional country forms. Dwight would never be caught in a cowboy hat singing one of those heinous ballads that have become so popular with the new artists (including Miss Twain).
Those that know Dwight as the hard-drinking, wife-beating yokel in Sling Blade, or the dim bulb rancher in Roswell, or the trucker driver in Red Rock West, might be surprised by his musical ability – especially after listening to him murder the song in Sling Blade. Yet, he has a rare voice that conveys a wealth of heartbreak and experience. Women do him wrong, he turns around and does the next woman wrong. Being treated like a dirt sandwich, which Sharon Stone compared him to after their six-week romance, is the theme of Dwight’s songs. It is to Dwight’s credit that he can render a song such as “The Curse” without any vocal irony when the lyrics are ever so ironic.
“The Curse” takes on Dwight’s major theme, heartbreak, and getting even:
Don’t you smile
Don’t you have
Happy thoughts for a while
‘Til teardrops and sadness
Both go out of style
No, don’t you even smile.”
The up-tempo galloping guitar work is at odds with the meaning of the song, and that makes the song funny in a bleak sort of way. “Things Change” is another stand out track with its guitar work, drums, and direct lyrics, “Forever’s a promise/No love can survive.” The listener never gets the feeling he is whining. The melody is upbeat; the guitar’s quick; the drums riotous.
The bare basics of country music make up his band: guitar, drums, some fiddle, and keyboards. Dwight keeps it simple. This lets the amazing guitar work of Pete Anderson come forward. Pete Anderson, his long time collaborator, backs Dwight on electric and acoustic guitar, lap steel, hand clasp and finger snaps. As usual, Pete also does the production and arrangements. His one misstep in this otherwise excellent CD is his choice of strings on “I’ll Just Take These.” Not fiddles, but strings, which come off sounding false and weird.
The title track, “A Long Way Home,” makes up for the previous song’s mistakes with a few lone piano notes echoing the melody. On “Listen,” Dwight does an Elvis growl thing. He revisits Elvis on the second version of “Only Want You More.” The first is straight up country. The second version is heavy with electric guitar, has a Rockabilly flair to it, and ends with a “thank you very much.” Dwight isn’t for everyone, yet he appeals to all sorts of people. He may never win over the hard-core Garth fans – but this is probably a good thing.
If for no other reason, I have to admire a man that will pour himself into a skin-tight pair of jeans, wear a little eyeliner, and look sexy for his female fans. It takes one hell of a man to wear a pink silk brocade for his back cover photo.