The hat still fits Yoakam

The coun­try star gets back in the dirt for ‘Sec­ond Hand Heart,’ his lat­est al­bum.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Mikael Wood

“Man, I am burned,” Dwight Yoakam said as he poured cof­fee from a sil­ver 7Eleven ther­mos. “My throat — it’s just trashed.”

Bleary eyes fixed on a small mon­i­tor, the vet­eran Los An­ge­les-based coun­try singer was sit­ting in an of­fice on Hol­ly­wood Boule­vard, edit­ing footage for a mu­sic video for his song “Liar.” In the clip, Yoakam per­forms stand­ing in the bed of a 1987 El Camino parked on Sun­set Boule­vard, and though the premise clearly ex­cited him, the work of bring­ing it to the screen was tak­ing a toll.

The night be­fore, he had taped an episode of “Gui­tar Cen­ter Ses­sions” at the in­stru­ment store on Sun­set. And the night be­fore that he’d hit the Whisky a Go Go, yet an­other of the boule­vard’s mu­sic-re­lated land­marks, for a rau­cous con­cert mark­ing the April 14 re­lease of his new al­bum, “Sec­ond Hand Heart.”

Of the Whisky gig, where he per­formed tunes from “Sec­ond Hand Heart” for the first time since record­ing the al­bum, Yoakam, 58, laughed and said, “It was like com­ing down the back­side of Cold­wa­ter Canyon with no brakes.” Even so, the show, like ev­ery­thing he’d done over the last few days, felt sig­nif­i­cant. “It all kind of book­ends what I was do­ing at the be­gin­ning of my ca­reer.”

Mem­o­ries of Yoakam’s scrappy early days on the L.A. club cir­cuit — in­clud­ing a record-re­lease show he played at the Roxy nearly 30 years ago to cel­e­brate his de-

but al­bum — course through “Sec­ond Hand Heart,” which roars with the punky gui­tars and head­long tem­pos this Ken­tucky na­tive picked up from bands like X and the Dils af­ter he moved here in the late ’70s.

Yet the record is no mere nos­tal­gia trip. It also re­flects the in­flu­ence Yoakam con­tin­ues to have on younger coun­try singers, along with his in­ter­est in their work (and, of course, their au­di­ences).

Last fall he toured are­nas open­ing for Eric Church. He joined Brandy Clark for a per­for­mance on Fe­bru­ary’s Grammy Awards. And as soon as he wrapped the “Liar” video he was set to travel to Dal­las to ap­pear with Sam Hunt at a con­cert con­nected to this month’s Academy of Coun­try Mu­sic Awards.

“He still cares, and that’s un­usual,” said Lenny Waronker, the long­time pro­ducer and Warner Bros. Records ex­ec­u­tive who’s worked with Yoakam on and off since 1986. “He wants his stuff to be as fresh and real and orig­i­nal as it can be.”

To cap­ture the shiny but ser­rated sound of “Sec­ond Hand Heart,” Yoakam set up shop in a space he called one of the few re­main­ing “magic gar­dens” from the golden era of record­ing in L.A.: Stu­dio B at the Capitol Records build­ing, where leg­ends such as Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra — not to men­tion coun­try stars like Buck Owens and Merle Hag­gard — laid down some of their most im­por­tant songs.

That his­tory meant some­thing to Yoakam, whose mu­si­cal knowl­edge runs deep enough that he can ex­pound for 15 min­utes on the prove­nance of the stu­dio’s linoleum floors. “But it’s not just de­ify­ing some­thing be­cause it’s old,” he in­sisted. “I mean, the Ed­sel is old, and I don’t want one. That car is an em­bar­rass­ment.”

In­stead, Yoakam was drawn to the room’s crisp acous­tics — “Capitol B is a shrine be­cause it tells you no lies,” he said — and to its fa­mous re­verb cham­bers.

Waronker said the re­sult, with a triple-gui­tar attack that “just burns your ears,” is less “fancy” than “3 Pears,” the com­par­a­tively ten­der 2012 al­bum that Yoakam recorded in part with Beck. And he’s right: Where the ear­lier disc cush­ioned songs about hope with stately roots-pop ar­range­ments, “Sec­ond Hand Heart” gets back in the dirt both son­i­cally and the­mat­i­cally.

Con­sider that on

“3 Pears” Yoakam af­fec­tion­ately cov­ered the Bee Gees’ “To Love Some­body,” while the new al­bum has a blis­ter­ing ver­sion of the folk stan­dard “Man of Con­stant Sor­row” that the singer de­scribed as “Bill Mon­roe Meets the Ra­mones.”

Which isn’t to say that one record rep­re­sents the real Dwight Yoakam more than the other. Of­ten hid­den be­neath his sig­na­ture cow­boy hat, the singer has al­ways been a some­what mys­te­ri­ous fig­ure, a guy who uses his art as much to con­struct a self as to re­veal one. (No sur­prise that he’s also made for a con­vinc­ing char­ac­ter ac­tor in movies like “Sling Blade” and “Panic Room.”)

“Dwight said some­thing to me the first time I met him that I’d never heard any­one say,” re­called Clark, who also trav­eled as an open­ing act on Church’s 2014 tour. “I asked him what was his fa­vorite record that he’d made, and he said, ‘All of them.’ ”

His re­ply struck Clark as an in­di­ca­tion that Yoakam “can look back on his body of work and love it all but also not be stuck on any of it.”

That’s one rea­son that Yoakam, even when he’s in­vok­ing his past, ranks among the most mod­ern of coun­try stars — and one well suited, at least in the­ory, to younger fans un­trou­bled by the idea of a mu­ta­ble artis­tic per­sona. If Tay­lor Swift owes Yoakam for any­thing, it’s lay­ing the ground­work that en­abled her on­go­ing rein­ven­tion.

Peer­ing out from the stage ev­ery night on the Church tour, Yoakam said he saw proof that coun­try mu­sic’s “de­mo­graphic par­a­digm has shifted dramatically,” away from the mid­dleaged lis­ten­ers who his­tor­i­cally formed the genre’s core au­di­ence to­ward fans in their late teens and 20s.

“It’s the youngest crowd since prob­a­bly 1954 and ’55, with Elvis Pres­ley,” he said. “We’re talk­ing about peo­ple lit­er­ally fresh to coun­try mu­sic within the past two, three years.”

And though that trend might worry some older per­form­ers, Yoakam views it as a source of mo­ti­va­tion.

“I think it’s in­cum­bent on artists my age to re-in­spire them­selves,” he said as he re­turned his at­ten­tion to his video. “Maybe that will in­spire a con­tem­po­rary lis­tener to want to pay at­ten­tion to what you’re do­ing.

“Mu­sic is a state of con­tin­u­ous dis­cov­ery,” he added. “Or it should be.”

Ethan Miller Getty Images

“IT ALL kind of book­ends what I was do­ing at the be­gin­ning of my ca­reer,” says Dwight Yoakam, 58.

Emily Joyce

SINGER DWIGHT YOAKAM says it is im­por­tant for vet­eran per­form­ers to “re-in­spire them­selves.”

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