Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
[Welcome to Thirty Year Thursday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1986, which now shifts to the releases I didn’t discover until after 1986]
Artist: DWIGHT YOAKAM
Album: GUITARS, CADILLACS, ETC., ETC.
My parents had a very small record collection when I was a child but they chose wisely because most of them have continued to impact me into adulthood. Among them were albums by classic country artists like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Webb Pierce. I didn’t grow up as a country music fan per se, but I enjoyed ‘70s crossover radio hits by Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Crystal Gayle, The Oak Ridge Boys and numerous others. So while many of my friends dismissed the entire genre as “hillbilly music,” I was always open to it. By the mid-‘80s a new generation of artists were emerging, such as Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett, Dwight Yoakam and Randy Travis. While I enjoyed a few of the latter’s songs at the time, it would be years until I checked out the others, eventually becoming a big fan of them all. By the turn of the millennium I don’t think I had ever heard a Dwight Yoakam song. In fact, I didn’t take notice of him until his strong acting performance in the 1996 film Sling Blade. Then in 2000 he released dwightyoakamacoustic.net, a collection of solo performances of songs from throughout his career, which became my entry point into his discography. It took a few listens to fully appreciate his voice, which would deter anyone with an aversion to “twang,” but I was immediately impressed by his songwriting. It wasn’t long before I dove into his catalog and discovered a treasure trove of material that country fans had been enjoying for so many years. With his longtime producer/co-arranger/guitarist Pete Anderson by his side, he unleashed one high-charting album after another. Anderson’s contributions can’t be overstated, as he & the other world class musicians helped elevate Yoakam’s songs to a higher level. All of this was apparent from the beginning with his debut album, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.
Right off the bat, Yoakam’s combination of classic country with rockabilly, rock ‘n’ roll and Buck Owens’ “Bakersfield Sound” set him apart from his contemporaries. “Guitars, Cadillacs” was Yoakam’s first #1 single, and its refrain of “guitars, Cadillacs & hillbilly music, is the only thing that keeps me hanging on” is essentially his mission statement. “Bury Me,” a bouncy, uptempo duet with Lone Justice singer Maria McKee, is incredibly catchy. The nearly 5-minute long “South Of Cincinnati,” the only song here to clock in over 3:20, proves that Yoakam was also a great balladeer & folk singer. It reminds me of some of Jimmy Buffett’s ballads. Album opener “Honky Tonk Man,” originally a hit for Johnny Horton in the ‘50s, was Yoakam’s debut single and a Top 5 hit. The third & final single, “It Won’t Hurt,” wasn’t as successful as the other two, but this sad, midtempo country shuffle is another winner, with subtle fiddle, steel guitar & piano. The band cranks out a rocked-up, honkytonk version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring Of Fire” which shone a light on that legendary artist during an era when he was all but forgotten, prior to his resurgence the following decade. I also love the folky, back-porch vibe of “Miner’s Prayer,” with a simple arrangement of vocals, fingerpicked & strummed acoustic guitars. Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. is a superb example of an artist arriving fully-formed on his debut album. It stands the test of time thirty years after its release and, at under 32 minutes, never overstays its welcome.