Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
Dwight Yoakam appears to be a many of mystery on the cover. With two side-by-side images of himself, the Kentucky honky tonker dons a trademark cowboy hat, jeans jacket and jacket and plucking his electric, legs spread and head pointed down. But there really is no mystery about Yoakam, who has been making music longer than some of the contemporary country acts have been alive. And Yoakam has a thing or two to show these young turks what country music used to be - and based on this sterling, muscular outing that is about as good as anything Yoakam has put out - could be once again.
His trademark voice retains its youthfulness (at 58) and color - holding notes, running them or giving a hiccup, sometimes within just a few bars ("Dreams of Clay") with a weeping pedal steel kicking in to accentuate the sadness. While he varies the sounds and tempos, Yoakam 's traditional country "Off Your Mind" with its loping pace makes you realize what's missing from today's country.
Yoakam incorporates a few non-country influences as well - a quick Beach Boys-like harmony ("whew-ooh") on the otherwise galloping lead off "In Another World."
Chances are ultra slim you've ever heard "Man of Constant Sorrow" as Yoakam tattooed it. Instead of the lonesome vocal delivery a la Dan Tyminski, you get an almost punky attitude with Yoakam's ferocious take. Not to mention a revved up backing band with lead guitarist Eugene Edwards spiking song after song. If you're going to tackle something as well-known, you had better offer an alternative. Perhaps a risky choice, but a smart one.
Yoakam follows that up with the twangy, rockabilly flavored "Liar" where once again his vocals push it before going honky tonk on "The Big Time," channeling Elvis Presley towards the end. With these songs near the end of the 10-song disc, Yoakam shows he is not taking any prisoners.
Yoakam smartly slows it down on the pensive, quieter closing "Vs Of Birds," letting Brian Whelan's mandolin shine for a bit.
Yoakam self-produced (engineer Chris Lord-Alge co-produced three of the songs), and in doing so, he shows he knows what will work, pushing the music along (also big thanks to drummer Mitch Marine and Edwards) with the spot on vocals fronting - as they should.
In this day and age where country ventures further and further from its roots, it's such a rare pleasure to hear someone of Yoakam's stature and authenticity to show that an old dog could indeed have a slew of new tricks. No mystery there.