Dwight Yoakam's 'Second Hand Heart' Is First Class

Dwight Yoakam's 'Second Hand Heart' Is First Class

3:14pm Apr 23, 2015

Dwight Yoakam has been making music that mixes country with rock 'n' roll since the 1970s. Working out of Los Angeles rather than Nashville, he's built a career that has also included a solid acting career, appearing in movies like 1996's Sling Blade and the recent TV series Under the Dome. Yoakam's new album is called Second Hand Heart, and Fresh Air rock critic Ken Tucker says it's one of Yoakam's most stylistically diverse.

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This is FRESH AIR. Dwight Yoakam has been making music that mixes country with rock 'n' roll since the 1970s. Working out of Los Angeles rather than Nashville, he's built a career that has also included acting, appearing in movies like "Sling Blade" and the recent TV series "Under The Dome." Yoakam's new album is called "Second Hand Heart," and rock critic Ken Tucker says it's one of Yoakam's most stylistically diverse.


DWIGHT YOAKAM: (Singing) She said when I trusted love, I dreamed in color too. But memories turn out black and white, at least mine do. She said my brother, you know, he used to have this friend. But this is now, that was then...

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Now there's a song so big, so grand, it's as much an anthem as a ballad. It seems more like the start of a movie, a Technicolor Western or a sun-bleached thriller, than a tune tucked four songs into Dwight Yoakam's new album. "Second Hand Heart" is the title song of Yoakam's collection, so he clearly knows what a powerful piece of music it is. And it's not even necessarily the best song here.


YOAKAM: (Singing) In another time and place, there awaits a sweet embrace where stains on hearts just fade away, replaced with hopes lost from today.

TUCKER: "In Another World" is the name of that one, and it's a phrase that could describe Yoakam's career. In the late '70s, his interest in honky-tonk, hard-core country and rockabilly weren't of interest to the Nashville industry, which was coming off an urban-cowboy pop phase. Yoakam headed to California and Los Angeles, where he hooked up with a punk rock scene that was wide open to new old sounds - sounds you can hear on a new song like "Believe," which could've been written in 1968 or 2015.


YOAKAM: (Singing) If I could I'd take us back to where we were when we didn't need to be any place but deep inside the moment love first came to life and see there's a way lost hope can lead to help find that memory. Baby, if you just believe.

TUCKER: In the early 1980s, various members of Los Angeles bands like X, the Blasters, Rank and File and the Textones were interested in the same kind of roots music Yoakam liked. California was also where country rock acts like the Birds, the Flying Burrito Brothers and the post-sitcom Ricky Nelson had emerged. Yoakam started putting out music that ran right alongside those traditions.


YOAKAM: (Singing) I've been building hopes so long, honey, I must have lost sight of what went wrong. 'Cause in sorrow's blinding light today, baby, it looks like my dreams were made of clay.

TUCKER: That's "Dreams Of Clay," a ballad built around the way Dwight Yoakam's vocals snake in and around the melancholy sentiments. It's also a composition that is difficult to do justice to in a review without playing the song's bridge. More than once on this album, Yoakam starts out with a strong melody but then ascends to a chorus or bridge verse that kicks everything up a notch to a higher level. Here's what I mean. After the second verse of "Dreams Of Clay," Yoakam and his band vamp a little with guitars and drums. Then the song rises to this.


YOAKAM: (Singing) I knew love could toss you down and leave you there to crawl around. But I never knew that was a fall we'd make. Getting up was nothing new. The kind of things hearts learn to do. But knowing how doesn't mean it's easy to take. So I'll forget about...

TUCKER: These are fat, juicy songs that build and burst. Let's go back to the title song that began this review. Here's what happens two minutes into it. The big guitar sound fades away a little, the better to showcase the drums and the harmonies of Yoakam and a couple of band members. "Second Hand Heart" suddenly starts to sound like a half-century-old pop song, something that could've snuck out during the gold rush that was Beatlemania.


YOAKAM: (Singing) Second hand hearts, second hand hearts, second heart hearts, second hand hearts are not just for parts. So I'll take away your...

TUCKER: Dwight Yoakam occupies a different space from most other country singers. He thinks differently. It's why he, long ago, re-appropriated the word hillbilly to signify old styles of music rendered with a modern sensibility. It's why the album "Second Hand Heart" sounds like a first-class attempt to erase nostalgia and make every era of pop music sound completely contemporary.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed Dwight Yoakam's new album, "Second Hand Heart." If you'd like to catch up on FRESH AIR interviews that you missed with people like Philip Glass, Billy Crystal and Josh Gad, Adam Driver and the creator of "House Of Cards," check out our podcast, which you can find on iTunes. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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