On the other hand…

The new Dwight Yoakam platter is a corker. After a return to form in 2012 with 3 Pears, Mr Yoakam is clearly on a hot streak. Recorded in Studio B at Capitol Records in Los Angeles, Second Hand Heart is a guitar-heavy, bright and breezy dose of honk, and indeed tonk. (This is the recording studio with the legendary echo chambers designed by Les Paul and used by Sinatra among others. I used to have a convolution reverb version of those chambers – sounded completely natural.)

Opening track ‘Another World’ has fast-strummed acoustic guitars and chiming, tremolo electric guitars, Beach Boy-style backing vocals and thumping toms. ‘She’ starts with a lone tambourine before the loud guitars come in, layer-upon-layer, including 12-string. It keeps getting better…

‘Dreams of Clay’, the longest track on the album, and a re-recording of a song from Tomorrow’s Sounds Today, starts of sounding like a more gently-paced ‘Suspicious Minds’, and the guitars join the arrangement over the first couple of verses. My favourite 20 seconds of the whole album is the twangy solo (starting at around 2:45), consisting of a series of bass note riffs, joined by a pedal steel before the middle 8.

The title track takes us back to the wall of sound of the opener, while ‘Off Your Mind’ is classic Yoakam, and could have come from his first couple of records (this is a good thing).

The album includes a couple of covers: the first is a hard-driving version of ‘Man of Constant Sorrow’ (which you may remember from the soundtrack of O Brother, Where Art Thou? and which Bob Dylan recorded on his debut album in 1962. The other cover is Anthony Crawford of Sugarcane Jane’s ‘V’s of Birds’, which closes the album. Churchy organ, twangy guitars, mandolin, a descending chord sequence: beautiful.

Yoakam’s voice is fantastic throughout and this is a wonderful record, reminding me why I loved country music in the first place: guitars, cadillacs etc. etc..

Speaking of which, on the same day I downloaded Second Hand Heart, I was overcome with an attack of nostalgia and also downloaded On The Other Hand: All the Number Ones by Randy Travis.

Together with Yoakam, Randy Travis was my introduction to what was then called New Country in the mid-1980s. A colleague gave me a cassette with Yoakam’s debut and Travis’ Old 8×10. With a rich baritone, Travis was the natural successor to the likes of George Jones, though I didn’t know it at the time. He had his own hot streak from the mid 80s to the early 90s. What happened next? Unlike Dwight Yoakam, he was unable to write his own material, so when the good songs started going elsewhere, his career stalled. He turned to gospel music and found a niche, but personal problems and alcoholism brought him low. How low? Walking naked into a 7/11 and trying to buy cigarettes low.

So it has been many years since I listened to his music. I owned some vinyl (long gone) and a couple of CDs (also long gone). So this was a real trip down a 25-30 year old memory lane. And you know what? I always said about country music that the greatest thing about it was its timelessness. When they get it right, they get it right forever. You shouldn’t be brought up short by short-term trends in drum sound and production values (qv. Born in the USA). Sure, these records sound a lot quieter than modern recordings (especially compared to Second Hand Heart above), but the instrumentation is classic, and Travis’ voice was always classy.

What went wrong? Apart from the songs drying up, he had his thunder stolen, probably, Garth Brooks (whose records have not aged as well) and Alan Jackson (another artist who can provide his own songs).

But this is a great collection, and I found myself listening to songs from years ago like ‘Forever and Ever, Amen’ and ‘Deeper than the Holler’, ‘Is it Still Over?’ and ‘Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart’ with tears in my eyes.

Worth a listen – absolutely timeless. And now, this:

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