The Mainstream: Dwight Yoakam Battles Pop-Country

 What paasses for mainstream country music these days really isn’t country music. It’s pop music, Brantley Gilbert is Britney Spears with testicles and a guitar and Taylor Swift is… uh, wait… she actually IS Britney Spears now. Dave Grohl once thought that The Zac Brown Band had a future and so did I, but after the release of their newest album, and its pop-produced opening track, he is now, at least to me, one of those I no longer speak of.

Even Shooter Jennings, who really had an opportunity to become his generation’s pseudo-Johnny Cash, or at least its hard rockin’ Willie Nelson, has abdicated the honor of being such after the whole Hierophant thing. Then there’s Dwight Yoakam. Cash and Nelson he is not, but what he is is more country than all the poppy crap country artists put together. That’s because he actually makes music that is closer to rock and roll (in its formative sense) than any of the above (excluding Cash and Nelson).

What we call rock music these days has one root firmly planted in country and the other in the blues. Yoakam actually remembers this and has kept his roots firmly planted in country/western musical soil. With Second Hand Heart, Dwight Yoakam returns to battle pop-country music. Firmly planted in his rhinestone saddle with his twin revolvers named “Rock” and “Country” blazing, Zac, Shooter and Taylor better take note, before they run and hide. Yoakam is going to corral pop country in the tar pit it deserves to be smothered in.

 So, “Second Hand Heart”, the album’s title track and first single, is the most perfect pop country song ever written and is awesome because of it. “Wait, what?” you’re undoubtedly saying now. Stick with me. It will all make sense in the end. With its rhythmic bounce, perfectly strummed acoustic guitar, toe tapping melodies and relatively twang-less vocals from Yoakam, “Second Hand Heart” is primed for airplay on everything from Sirius XM’s Outlaw Country station to your local Top 40. It’s the perfect example of pop-music with a rock/country slant that can and will appeal to everyone. There is nothing wrong with this. If you can write a great pop song, then you better well damned do it. Just don’t overdo it. Pop springs from old timey country-rock so why wouldn’t Yoakam be a master of it?

It’s when you listen to Second Hand Heart all the way through and really, really tune in with the songs you’re hearing that you realize the genius of Yoakam’s statement here. The kind of country rock that Yoakam is writing and playing really is representative of everything that was so great about the early music of Johnny Cash (“Get Rhythm”) as well as Elvis (“Jailhouse Rock”). “Off Your Mind” captures that ‘50s rock sound and feel as it took its first tottering steps from country to rock. Yoakam does his best, but absolutely natural, Elvis drawl while being plodded along by a beat and guitar drone that would later serve as the influential basis for what we now call desert noir guitar (of which Whitehorse are currently great imitators of).


“Dreams of Clay” is your typical country “tear in my bear” type of song about lost love, sadness, etc., but when Yoakam drops a descending power chord riff in the middle of the song we’re suddenly reminded of all the great descending chord progressions that make just about every one of Soundgarden’s songs so great. Take the riff from “Dreams of Clay”, up the distortion and crank the reverb and you’ve got a main riff for the next Soundgarden hit.

“Believe” could be covered by The Replacements and everyone would think it’s one of their original compositions much like everyone thinks “Rockin’ in the Free World” was written by Eddie Vedder. His cover of “Man of Constant Sorrow” is straight up rockabilly. There’s no other way to put it, besides that it is incredible sounding. The Stones-esque “She” is a classic rocker and “The Big Time” is Yoakam foreshadowing himself as fat and old and playing Vegas (although somehow I don’t think that’s going to happen), or your local honky tonk, it’s perfect for either venue.

It would be easy to say that, after all that, Yoakam is just a huckster stealing riffs and cashing in on those who came before him. In a sense he is, (cashing in, but not huckstering) although he’s doing so in a way that everything that he he has written or covered here is firmly, undoubtedly and deeply rooted in the genre that birthed it all sonically; and instead of imitating it he is paying the deepest type of homage to it possible by playing and singing it so well.

There are no grunge songs on Second Hand Heart, just like there are no post-punk ones either, because those genres, like every other rock genre, owes its debt of existence to the type of rock and roll that Yoakam is keeping alive. If there are any hucksters out there stealing riffs and cashing in, it’s the endless supply of pop country products who are writing the same song, singing the same lyrics and relying upon the same studio magic and auto-tune (yes I’m looking at you Zac Brown) to make watered down mush for the masses. At least Yoakam’s pop-country is made by musicians who actually play their instruments, write their own songs and understand and are focused on where they came from instead of where their bottoms lines are going to be next quarter.

Catch the Tour:

Thu 07 May 2015 The Lodge – Regency Ballroom San Francisco, CA, US
Thu 07 May 2015 The Regency Ballroom San Francisco, CA, US
Fri 08 May 2015 The Observatory North Park San Diego, CA, US
Sat 09 May 2015 Spotlight 29 Casino Coachella, CA, US
Fri 15 May 2015 Pavilion Fredericksburg, VA, US
Sat 16 May 2015 Ksu Sports and Entertainment Park Kennesaw, GA, US
Fri 22 May 2015 Horseshoe Tunica Hotel & Casino Robinsonville, MS, US
Sat 23 May 2015 Riverdome, Horseshoe Casino Bossier City, LA, US
Fri 29 May 2015 Surf Ballroom Clear Lake, IA, US
Sat 30 May 2015 Kansas Expocentre Topeka, KS, US
Thu 04 Jun 2015 PNC Pavilion at Riverbend Cincinnati, OH, US
Fri 05 Jun 2015 Rose Music Center at The Heights Huber Heights, OH, US
Sat 06 Jun 2015 Seneca Allegany Events Center Salamanca, NY, US
Thu 11 Jun 2015 Gillioz Theatre Springfield, MO, US
Fri 12 Jun 2015 Grand Casino Hotel & Resort Shawnee, OK, US
Sun 14 Jun 2015 John T. Floore Country Store Helotes, TX, US
Fri 19 Jun 2015 Chinook Winds Casino Lincoln City, OR, US
Sat 20 Jun 2015 Chinook Winds Casino Lincoln City, OR, US
Sat 27 Jun 2015 Farm Borough Music Festival 2015 New York, NY, US
Sun 28 Jun 2015 Indian Ranch Webster, MA, US
Fri 10 Jul 2015 Liberty Bank Alton Amphitheater Alton, IL, US
Sat 11 Jul 2015 Master Musicians Festival 2015 Somerset, KY, US
Fri 17 Jul 2015 Lakefront Park Prior Lake, MN, US
Fri 17 Jul 2015 Lakefront Music Fest 2015 Prior Lake, MN, US
Sat 18 Jul 2015 Faster Horses Festival 2015 Brooklyn, MI, US
Fri 31 Jul 2015 Thunder Mountain Amphitheatre Loveland, CO, US
Sat 15 Aug 2015 Interstellar Rodeo at the Forks 2015 Winnipeg, MB, Canada
Sat 22 Aug 2015 Britt Pavilion Jacksonville, OR, US
Sun 23 Aug 2015 Little Creek Casino Resort Shelton, WA, US
Wed 26 Aug 2015 Benton County Fairgrounds Kennewick, WA, US
Fri 28 Aug 2015 Peppermill Concert Hall West Wendover, NV, US
Sat 29 Aug 2015 Edgewater Hotel & Casino Laughlin, NV, US
Thu 03 Sep 2015 Ryman Auditorium Nashville, TN, US
Fri 04 Sep 2015 Ryman Auditorium Nashville, TN, US
Sat 05 Sep 2015 Pepsi Gulf Coast Jam 2015 Panama City Beach, FL, US
Sun 04 Oct 2015 Austin City Limits Music Festival 2015 Austin, TX, US
Sun 11 Oct 2015 Austin City Limits Music Festival 2015 Austin, TX, US



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