Just over a year after his album Second Hand Heart, reviewed here, Yoakam releases another, this a declared ‘bluegrass’ focus, revisiting his songs mainly and adding plenty of fiddle and mandolin and rousing harmony accompaniments, but in many respects these simply continue to present his totally distinctive sound, primarily in the vocal with its Dwight-yodel-twang [and there is a posting on the net How do I learn to sing like Dwight Yoakam? where people actually give advice….].
So these are largely older familiar songs liked loads then and just as much now remade, mandolin strums and plucks and fiddle rolls enhancing to their different effect – the vocals of Yoakam and band absolutely crisp and to the foreground and that is their brilliant collective strength. Sad, Sad Music for example is mandolin strummed and banjo finger-picked beneath the twang-rich lead of Dwight and the tight bluegrass harmonising, the fiddle doing a twirl. Two Doors Down resonates to Yoakam’s echoing singing, as it always has, those note-end upward vocal flips a sonic singing that defines Dwight Country. Same again with his classic Guitars, Cadillacs. The bass vocal from a bluegrass barbershop quartet adds depth to the tenor twang on Home For Sale. There's the comic percussion in an otherwise taut Please, Please Baby.
The only album ‘surprise’ then is closer Purple Rain, an impromptu cover, apparently, of Prince’s song. Yin Yang, I’m sure, for listeners. It rests perfectly within its bluegrass framing for me, a mixture perhaps of the excellence of songwriting that carries it wherever it goes; the distinctiveness that is Yoakam making it sit so easy in his singing [assuming one likes, as I do], and the pathos of Prince’s untimely death that still resides within our embrace of this dark year for such leavings.