by Jesse Hill
Like a deconstructed tumbleweed that’s danced across southern and western terrains for the span of five decades, Dwight Sings Buck is an explosive unraveling of the history of country music, rockabilly, and moreover, music in general. It is a masterpiece that rebuilds a well-trodden bridge between two legendary bodies of work, and the layers of influence that materialize in the construction of this bridge come together like a collage of many colored translucent papers, on which the many colors fade subtly in and out of one another. A long time friend and music industry surrogate father to Yoakam, Buck Owens watched as the music that influenced his own curbed rock-n-roll’s Roy Orbison’s which curbed pop’s the Beatles’ which curbed folk-rock’s the Byrds which curbed country-rock’s the Flying Burrito Bros., and thus, the tumbleweed completed a country-rock-pop-folk-rock-country-rock tour cycle by as early as 1967. By the release of Yoakam’s first album Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. in 1984, that cycle had been completed, bent, skewed, and morphed many times over, but it was clear that Yoakam’s music was sticking as true to its source, Owens et al., as the times would permit. Now more than two decades later, Yoakam goes exactly to that source in a tribute to his beloved hero that withholds Owens’ smile-despite-the-hurt sensibilities while breathing a new life into the songs that lets them shine in today’s loud, high-production friendly honky-tonks.
The tempo is high. The Telecaster is loud, and in seven minutes, Yoakam churns out three classics, “My Heart Skips a Beat,” “Foolin’ Around,” and “I Don’t Care (Just as Longs as You Love Me),” to tell you exactly what you’re getting into: an un-caricatured rockabilly album filled with timeless lyrics that moves so hard you’ll be bustin’ out of your starched Wranglers to flip a honky-tonk angel over your back on the dance floor. (Today’s writers take note: Owens’ smartly innocent but suggestive lyrics are what make his songs worthy of being added to the great book of timeless tunes. Some of you have been trying to push the envelope with your shock and astonish explicitness, but there ain’t no room for that in country…Oh, and did you catch that? Three songs in seven minutes?!) Next Yoakam slows things down a bit with perhaps the only miss on the entire album, “Only You,” a slightly experimental, Roy Orbison-esque cover (only more in the vain of the production of Roy Orbison’s 1987 In Dreams, in which he re-records his own classics with the amenities of a modern studio, like a drum machine). “Only You” does not rise to much of a climax, but it lets you catch your breath for the rest of the album, which is mostly comprised of songs as fast as stock cars and as priceless as watching your first born compete in NASCAR. And though they’re all mentionable, a few of the more mentionable include: “Act Naturally,” a cover that Yoakam does a helluva lot better than Ringo Starr ever did (sorry, Ringo), and when Yoakam sings about being put in the movies as the sad and lonely guy just by acting like himself, you can’t help but think he must’ve been a bit tickled considering the slew of self-deprecating movie roles he’s played; “Above and Beyond,” a perfect Buddy Holly replica complete with angelic piano droplets ala Holly’s “Raining in my Heart”; “Close Up the Honky-Tonks,” a sad-with-a-grin song about the heart-breaking women God didn’t make but Hank Thompson and Kitty Wells made famous; and “Together Again,” a perfect closer for this album on which you can just about hear everyone who’s ever trod the bridge, trod it. Oh, there’s Buck walking that bridge. And, yep, there’s Dwight. And…Willie? It is Willie! And who’s that? Well, that’s Gram Parsons. Patsy Cline?! Well, I’ll be. You hear ‘em all in there because they all wanted to sound like Buck Owens, and Dwight Yoakam gets about as close to the spirit of it as anyone ever will.