NPR : Fresh Air

Filed Under:

Dwight Yoakam: Weary And Wary On '3 Pears'

Dwight Yoakam persists in mixing genres in a way that may leave him out of the country mainstream, but puts him in a good position to make a personal album with some of his best music.

Yoakam has been trying to carve out his place in the music industry for decades now, with regular side-trips into the film industry as an actor. In a way, this is a key to the difficulty he's had maintaining the visibility he deserves. The feeling that Yoakam is acting out the role of a country star, and the idea that he not-so-secretly feels he's slightly above the genre he tries to write hits for, is a feeling that persists among many. Yoakam's admirers, of whom I am very much one, see him differently. As is abundantly clear on his new album 3 Pears, he declines to fit into market categories for very long, jumping within each album from nasal-nirvana honky-tonk to ringing pop-rock songs such as "A Heart Like Mine."

"A Heart Like Mine" has the reverberations and hand-clap percussion of 1960s British Invasion rock, and was co-produced by Beck, a singer-songwriter not known for his country-music affiliations. Yoakam liked the Martin Scorsese documentary about George Harrison, Living in the Material World, and 3 Pears takes its title from a scene in which John Lennon plays around with three pairs of glasses. It's inspired one of the two best songs on the album.

Pop-music critic Don McLeese has a new book out called Dwight Yoakam: A Thousand Miles From Nowhere. It does a fine job of chronicling the wayward path Yoakam's career has taken, starting as a Kentucky-born self-proclaimed hillbilly who found initial recognition in early-'80s Los Angeles in the last throes of punk rock. He was pushing back-to-basics music at a time when Garth Brooks and Urban Cowboy pop-country was ascendant. Yoakam's period as a hit country act in the late '80s, nevertheless, has always left him positioned as an outsider, and he's never even enjoyed the rock-critic good press that colleagues such as Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle enjoyed. Chalk it up to orneriness, to the tired old plaint of lacking authenticity, but Yoakam has traveled not merely a lonely road but a career path he had to pave essentially by himself. One notable thing about all this is how artfully such struggle surfaces in his music, particularly in tracks like "Long Way to Go."

Dwight Yoakam's song about how there's "still such a long way to go" could be said of his career. You get the feeling that he's a little bit weary, and quite a bit wary. He's a guy who, essentially, wants to sing about having his heart broken, whether it's by a woman or by thwarted ambition. Both of which are great, eternal subjects around which he's now built something close to a great album.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Writer James Alan McPherson, Winner Of Pulitzer, MacArthur And Guggenheim, Dies At 72

McPherson, the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, has died at 72. His work explored the intersection of white and black lives with deftness, subtlety and wry humor.
NPR

Oyster Archaeology: Ancient Trash Holds Clues To Sustainable Harvesting

Modern-day oyster populations in the Chesapeake are dwindling, but a multi-millennia archaeological survey shows that wasn't always the case. Native Americans harvested the shellfish sustainably.

WAMU 88.5

Your Turn: Ronald Reagan's Shooter, Freddie Gray Verdicts And More

Have opinions about the Democratic National Convention, or the verdicts from the Freddie Gray cases? It's your turn to talk.

NPR

Writing Data Onto Single Atoms, Scientists Store The Longest Text Yet

With atomic memory technology, little patterns of atoms can be arranged to represent English characters, fitting the content of more than a billion books onto the surface of a stamp.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.