Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Dwight Yoakam

  • Guitars Cadillacs Etc. Etc. [Reprise, 1986] B
  • Hillbilly Deluxe [Reprise, 1987] B-
  • Buenas Noches From a Lonely Room [Reprise, 1988] B+
  • Just Lookin' for a Hit [Reprise, 1989] A-
  • If There Was a Way [Reprise, 1990] ***
  • This Time [Reprise, 1993] **
  • Gone [Warner Bros., 1995] Neither
  • Under the Covers [Warner Bros., 1997] Dud
  • A Long Way Home [Reprise, 1998] Neither
  • Last Chance for a Thousand Years: Dwight Yoakam's Greatest Hits from the 90's [Reprise, 1999] A-
  • The Very Best of Dwight Yoakam [Reprise/Rhino, 2004]
  • Blame the Vain [New West, 2005] **
  • Dwight Sings Buck [New West, 2007] Dud

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Guitars Cadillacs Etc. Etc. [Reprise, 1986]
As seems retrospectively inevitable in the neoclassicist era, a major finally gave this bluegrass-tinged hardshell a shot, expanding his generous indie EP of the same title (on Oak, if you care to look) into a skimpy album. Even first time around his twang-power purism was more retreat than reclamation. Add two superfluous covers, a duet with Maria McKee, and a title tune in which all those et ceteras turn out to be "hillbilly music" and you get Ricky Skaggs for sinners. B

Hillbilly Deluxe [Reprise, 1987]
Buck Owens may be his hero, but if George Jones earns a ten for contained intensity and Ricky Skaggs a one, Owens gets an eight and Yoakam maybe a four--he never breaks out of the jams, fixes, and world-historical dilemmas that are country music's reason for being. Reminding us once again that in a genre that's always fetishized tradition, neotraditionalism means immersing yourself in limitation until you convince yourself it's the air you breathe. B-

Buenas Noches From a Lonely Room [Reprise, 1988]
With the clout to take chances, Yoakam is out to prove that he's one mean cocksucker. On side one, hopeless jealousy metastasizes into a killing rage, and for damn sure he's more interesting that way--Jerry Lee worshippers may even get hard. Side two's Buck Owens cameo and lament for a boozer dad convince me the revamped persona is for the better. The inspirational number he wrote for his mom convinces me of nothing. B+

Just Lookin' for a Hit [Reprise, 1989]
Plotting his escape from country radio, an ambitious neorowdy calls up the two generations of L.A. country-rock summed up by the Burritos' "Sin City" and the Blasters' "Long White Cadillac," which redefine a judiciously slanted selection from his three albums. With the honky-tonk filler that spoiled the flavor of his debut EP-turned-LP recontextualized and the strong but mean-spirited first side of Buenas Noches From a Lonely Room undercut by two second-side highlights, you might almost think he was as smart as Gram or Dave Alvin. Well, don't overexcite yourself. Just thank the forces of commerce for a country best-of. A-

If There Was a Way [Reprise, 1990]
a honky tonker with a grudge, not a stud with the rhythm and blues ("The Heart That You Own," "The Distance Between You and Me") ***

This Time [Reprise, 1993]
neotraditionalism as neoclassicism, which he knows; cold son of a bitch as victim, which he doesn't ("This Time," "A Thousand Miles From Nowhere") **

Gone [Warner Bros., 1995] Neither

Under the Covers [Warner Bros., 1997] Dud

A Long Way Home [Reprise, 1998] Neither

Last Chance for a Thousand Years: Dwight Yoakam's Greatest Hits from the 90's [Reprise, 1999]
Whenever I ponder this multithreat singer-songwriter, honky-tonk ideologue, Hollywood role-player, published author, and hunk-if-you-like-your-meat-lean, I remember what Sharon Stone said about the prospects for their reunion: "I'd rather eat a dirt sandwich." Normally with country music you swallow the male chauvinism and figure guys feeling sorry for themselves is what makes it go; with Yoakam, so talented and so conscious, you expect a little movement within the paradigm, and conclude that he chose neotrad because movement was the last thing on his mind. But even if his most romantic moment is the Waylon cover where he goes back to his old lady because his new lady was playing games, he's sung and written his way into the male chauvinist canon. His best song of the '90s, for its heartbroke melody: 1990's "The Heart That You Own." Latest rock cover: the finale, Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love." He "just can't handle it," "must get 'round to it," etc. Right, Dwight. Or is that just Dirtbag? A-

The Very Best of Dwight Yoakam [Reprise/Rhino, 2004]
Although there was no such thing as purist honky tonk before Yoakam came along, now there is, and in controlled doses it's as sharp as the crease in his crotch. The 20 selections never tail off, and neither does Yoakam's voice as it transports Buck Owens from the flats of Bakersfield to the Blue Ridge mountains of your mind. [Recyclable]

Blame the Vain [New West, 2005]
Sounds older, and the infirmity becomes him ("Blame the Vain," "Three Good Reasons"). **

Dwight Sings Buck [New West, 2007] Dud