Sunday, November 12, 2006
Written by Fantasma el Rey
Dwight Yaokam’s first album, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., is back and better than ever. With this two-disk set the original offering is given the deluxe treatment, complete with remastered sound, demos from 1981 and a live performance from 1986. One of my favorite albums ever since I first heard my mother play it, I energetically jumped at the chance to give this new edition a spin and see how it sounds.
Dwight Yoakam has a sound that can best be described as revved-up hillbilly music, a paraphrase from one of my favorite bands, The Chop Tops, who described their music as revved up rockabilly. Like The Chop Tops’ rockabilly, Dwight’s hillbilly country is traditional but kicked up to maximum velocity, presented and mixed with his own personal touch and influences. Much the same way as other youths of the past have done in country music, Elvis, Gram Parsons, all three Hanks, etc., etc., Dwight’s sound first made its way to our ears with Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. It is now remastered and expanded into two CDs that are presented in chronological order. This works because it gives the sense of something new instead of a simple rehashing.
Dwight’s demos from 1981 open disk one and we get to hear version of songs that would eventually find their way on to Guitars, Cadillacs as well as on his future albums. In comparison to the final versions, you can hear how some of the demos are missing a bit of the magic that is Dwight’s signature sound. Although to start disk one, “This Drinkin’ Will Kill Me” is a perfect example of his revved-up sound, a self-penned tune styled after the “drinking your sorrows away” classics of days past. Fiddles jump, the pedal steel wails, and the electric guitar cooks while a steady driving rhythm section that takes a page from Johnny Cash backs Dwight’s plaintive vocals and acoustic guitar. Mix in lyrics such as “Death can come from this broken heart/ Or it can come from this bottle/ So why prolong the agony/ Hey bartender/ I think I’ll hit the throttle.” This one, along with “I’ll Be Gone,” sum up Dwight’s jump sound pretty well.
Not only can Dwight get a hillbilly tune to hop but he shows how even at this early stage in his career he’s mastered the slow drinkin’ song. “It Won’t Hurt” is a tune that prepared ol’ Fantasma for life’s heartaches, “It won’t hurt/ When I fall down from this barstool,” “It wont hurt ‘cause this whisky eases misery/ But even whisky/ Cannot ease your hurting me.” I think most of us have lived that line at one time or another. The demo for “You’re The One,” which wouldn’t turn up until the early ‘90s is also here, foretelling how Dwight wouldn’t lose sight of his original style. Dwight’s arrangements are pulled tight and drawn in close for these slow slices of pain.
The next ten tracks have us leaping forward five years and into the released version of Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., which are the songs that set the country world on fire and made Dwight a true country icon. Dwight went back to his demos for half the album, added two more original tunes and threw in three old favorites. The album is set ablaze quickly by a stomping reworking of Johnny Horton’s classic “Honky Tonk Man;” the song fits the album perfectly, matching the title track punch for punch. The two remaining cover tunes are June Carter’s “Ring Of Fire” and Harland Howard’s “Heartaches By The Number,” both bare Dwight’s revved-up approach.
The two new songs include the title track and the heartbreaking “South Of Cincinnati,” which finds a women writing to a man everyday after he left her fourteen years earlier. She tells that drunken fool that if he ever makes it back to the South, back where Dixieland begins, then she’ll be his again. However, out of her pride, she never sends the letters. The fiddles are slow and weep alongside the pedal steel guitar while Dwight delivers his lyrics through vocals that’ll brings a tear to your eye.
“Guitars, Cadillacs” proves that Dwight is a poet of the common man and anyone who’s been heartbroken, really. “But thank you girl/ For teaching me/ Brand new ways to be cruel.” Lord knows I’ve learned a thing or two from a kitten that had me fooled. Rounding out the album are five of the demos slightly reworked and modified in final versions, “It Won’t Hurt,” “I’ll Be Gone,” “Twenty Years,” “Miner’s Prayer,” and the most notable change being “Bury Me,” now a duet with Maria McKee.
Disk two is where it’s at, a live performance from The Roxy in Hollywood. Recorded in 1986 as the album was starting to heat up, we get a portrait of Dwight and his band in full effect. By this time the band had been together for over two years and the music captured that night was flowing fast, furious, and nearly flawless. They kick start the show with a jumping version of Bill Monroe’s “Can’t You Hear Me Calling,” moving smoothly right into their then-current radio hit “Honky Tonk Man.” The mood is kept alive when Dwight introduces his tribute to the Bakersfield sound of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, the now-classic “Guitars, Cadillacs.” From there, he goes right back to Monroe for “Rocky Road Blues,” which was actually suggested by Monroe himself. Of the twelve songs played that night seven were off of the Guitars, Cadillacs album and have that sped-up, live spin to them, making disk two the real jewel of this set.
Two live gems are the revamped covers of Hank Williams Sr.’s “My Buckets Got A Hole In It” and a blues song, turned rockabilly staple by a young Elvis Presley, Junior Parker’s “Mystery Train.” I find it interesting that the songs Dwight covers are considered to be rockabilly standards and historically speaking, rockabilly is hepped-up country to begin with. So with that said, it’s no surprise that in his early paying gigs, Dwight was support for roots rock legends such as The Blasters and Los Lobos. Both bands are known for taking their musical heritage and turning it into something fresh and new, while keeping it oddly traditional.
Dwight’s playful banter with the crowd is further proof that he is connected to the people he performs and writes for, adding to the wonder that is Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. Dwight put it best when in response to the crowd’s roar he confesses, “It’s just old hillbilly stuff.” I only disagree because I do believe that he makes it fresh and keeps the flame alive with each album he puts out and in every show that he does.