Dwight Yoakam

Dwight Yoakam

A Long Way Home

Warner Bros./Reprise

Forgive the imagery, but Dwight Yoakam is the one artist who could fart in a mud puddle and I’d pay to hear it. He is so far away the best country artist — his albums so nearly flawless in their structure, tone, and delivery — that it’s hard to imagine any of his contemporaries coming close. But lest this become yet another crucifixion of today’s country crap (talk about your easy targets), let’s revel in Yoakam’s return to form after a rare miss in last year’s Under the Covers. Seemingly aware of that uneven collection of covers, Yoakam made this album an all-Yoakam affair, with all originals that together make this album just as formidable as previous gems such as 1994’s classic This Time or the adventuresome Gone from 1996.

Here’s what you get in virtually every Yoakam offering: songwriting that can be alternately witty, dark, tongue-in-cheek, and introspective, or all of the above; drop-dead production and crystal-clean guitar work from indispensable, longtime collaborator Pete Anderson; and Yoakam’s searing voice that actually makes you fall in love with a nasal twang. He long ago has transcended his Buck Owens homage to find his own vocal style, even though there’s a hint or two here. On A Long Way Home — part of which he wrote while on location filming Richard Linklater’s The Newton Boys, Yoakam revisits familiar turf with treatises on failed love. While he has always come across as cool as shit, Yoakam often paints himself as a fool for love. He says as much in This Time‘s “King of Fools,” and does so again in the opening track, “Same Fool,” but asks his tormentor to share in the blame: “Go find some real fool/ No near fool/ The kind of fool/ That knows what fools are for/ That’ll give your foolin’ heart/ Those foolish thrills/ It won’t stand a chance to ignore.”

Almost important as Anderson’s picking is the piano playing of Skip Edwards, who adds light dashes to yet another Yoakam lament on “These Arms,” with Yoakam looking at otherwise strong arms, “Two arms that failed completely/Arms both scarred so deeply/Keep paying love’s costs/With each tragic sway.” But Yoakam is unrepentant in his search for true love, as he pleads for his love to “Listen” toward album’s end: “Please listen for hope that’s been left behind/Listen/To the small traces you find… Before this chance disappears/And try to hear.”

Yoakam adds a dash of bluegrass on “Traveler’s Lantern” in a great duet with Ralph Stanley, who accompanies on banjo and vocals. Then he pulls a fast one in the closer, “Maybe You Like It, Maybe You Don’t,” where he takes the lyrics from an earlier tune, “Only Want You More,” and does his best Elvis impersonation. Once again, Yoakam shows he really does know how to stay true to his roots.

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