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Dwight Yoakam Biography

Last updated: 11/09/2010 11:00:00 AM

DWIGHT YOAKAM has enjoyed a remarkable career. The only California-based country singer to rise to sustained national prominence since the heyday of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, with more than eight million records sold, two Grammy awards (and a total of 15 Grammy nominations), not to mention stacks of accolades for his work as an actor (in films like the Academy Award-winning Sling Blade), Yoakam is clearly at the top of his form. His latest release on Reprise Records, Last Chance For A Thousand Years: Dwight Yoakam's Greatest Hits From The 90's, provides an extraordinary overview of the Kentucky-born country singer's recent achievements. While this is his second collection of hits, Last Chance... also includes three brand new tracks: "Thinking About Leaving," written by Rodney Crowell and Dwight Yoakam; Waylon Jennings' "I'll Go Back To Her" (from 1976); and Dwight's exuberant cover of Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love."

All the songs were recorded with longtime producer/guitarist Pete Anderson, and this set, culled primarily from 1990's If There Was a Way, 1993's This Time, UK-only 1992 release La Croix D'Amour and 1995's Gone, makes it clear the pair have created one of the most singular bodies of work in contemporary country. Their specialized use of the idiom combines a broad palette of emotion and expression, framed by a fascinating mix of stylistic elements and influences that range from strictly traditional to highly unorthodox, forward-looking sounds. And it's served Yoakam well: Rolling Stone's Don McLeese wrote in a four-star review of This Time, "that he has no peer, that his emotional precision and command of nuance have attained a kind of perfection" Elsewhere, Vanity Fair noted, "Yoakam strides the divide between rock's lust and country's lament," while Time declared Yoakam a "Renaissance man."

Yoakam has always been distinguished by a rare ability to uphold reverence for old school, hard country while reaching out to fresh, uncharted ground. A point which the Luther Perkins-style rhythm driven opening track "Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose" makes clear, with its classic hillbilly sonics topped off by Yoakam's yearning but defiant vocals. The self-penned ballad "You're The One," a No. 1 single from If There Was a Way, uses a lush countrypolitan approach to deliver a message of romantic irony; while the rough and tumble shuffle of "It Only Hurts When I Cry," another Top Ten hit from the same album (co-written with the late, great Roger Miller), is pure hard-socking honky-tonk, bristling with fiddle and piano. Country weeper "The Heart That You Own" takes despair to a new plateau, while Yoakam's rocking nod to Elvis, "Suspicious Minds," plays both as a bruised plea and affectionate homage to the source.

The newly-recorded "Thinking About Leaving," written by Rodney Crowell with the lyric personally tailored by Yoakam, gleams with melancholy, while Anderson's warm, contemplative guitar heightens the bittersweet atmosphere. Yoakam-original "A Thousand Miles From Nowhere" provides a smooth segue into "Ain't That Lonely Yet," a No. 1 single from This Time which also won him the 1993 Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance. The rocked-up "Fast As You," with its brawny rhythmic shades of Yoakam idol-influence Roy Orbison, is an ideal set-up for the mid-tempo pop-tinged lament "Pocket Of A Clown."

"Sorry You Asked" from the Gone album is brash, with a hint of brass and pumping honky-tonk piano, while "Nothing" is pure Yoakam-a ballad given a thoroughly original sound and arrangement that, with its spoken recitation, characteristically recalls country tradition while some Muscle Shoals-style horns push the song into unexplored soul-hillbilly territory. Another brand new song, Yoakam's heartfelt version of Waylon Jennings' "I'll Go Back To Her," with its crying steel guitar, is stone-country perfection and the grand finale, a deft, rockabilly stomp through Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" demonstrates that Dwight Yoakam, an artistic maverick beholden to none, still has quite a few surprising new trails to blaze.