My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Dwight Yoakam – ‘If There Was A Way’

In between his third and fourth albums, Dwight Yoakam released his first hits collection, Just Lookin’ For A Hit, which featured two new songs.  While only ‘Long White Cadillac’ was released to radio, it stalled at #35 (after the title cut and final single from his previous album became his first not to enter the top 40).  So it must have been a relief when the first single from If There Was A Way stormed up the charts to a #11 high spot.  Four more singles from the album would find their way to country’s top 40, with a sixth stalling outside.  If There Was A Way also holds the distinction as the first Dwight Yoakam album not to reach the top spot on the country albums chart, though it did sell platinum like its predecessors.

‘Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose’ introduced this album to radio and follows the signature Dwight Yoakam sound to the letter.  Like his first hits, it features a driving bass line alongside a mish-mash of fiddle and steel, and sounds almost like a close cousin to ‘Streets of Bakersfield’.  It’s a clever lyric with the narrator drowning his sorrows and getting loose to the honky-tonk sounds he holds so dear.  ‘Turn’ was written by Kostas and Wayland Patton and is the only single from the album Dwight didn’t have a hand in writing.

In ‘You’re The One’, the tables have turned on the couple, and now that she wants him back, he gets to savor the feeling of watching her experience the heartache she put him through.  With gentle strings and a smoother melody, it’s one of the least country-sounding tracks on the album, but did fare better than the other singles and became the only top 5 hit among them.  Next at radio was the barroom-ready ‘Nothing’s Changed Here’.  The raw sound comes from the excellent guitar work of Pete Anderson, and the effect sounds as if it were out of the Ernest Tubb songbook, whose own ‘Walkin’ The Floor Over You’ is referenced in the lyrics.  ‘Nothing’s Changed Here’ is another Kostas co-write, this time with Yoakam, and found its way to #15 in the Spring of 1991.

Roger Miller served as co-writer for the album’s fourth single.  Smartly flippant, ‘It Only Hurts When I Cry’ found its way to #7 on the singles chart and it finds a man drowning in his sorrow trying to convince the woman that’s left him that he’s just fine; while a tinkling piano and crying steel guitar frame the lies he’s telling her.

A stone country fiddle cry kicks off my favorite track, a weeping lament to a heart that’s forever taken.  ‘The Heart That You Own’ is one of the many metaphor-driven hits that were so bountiful during this era in country music, and became the last hit single from If There Way A Way, peaking at #18.  Likewise, ‘Send A Message To My Heart’ is another stone-country weeper.  This time, Dwight brings along another Kentucky native to harmonize on this ode to love across the miles.  Neither’s star power could propel it up the charts, and it stalled at #47 as the sixth and final single.

More fancy guitar works shows up in ‘Sad, Sad Music’, but the silence is deafening to the narrator as he sings:

There should be music
Sad, sad music
The kind the movies have
When love like ours goes bad

And as more evidence of Dwight’s homages to his musical heroes are the bluegrass-influenced ‘Since I Started Drinkin’ Again’ and the honky-tonk stroller ‘I Don’t Need It Done’, written by John Sieger.

If There Was A Way continued Dwight Yoakam’s run of making hits out of heartbroke lyrics set to rhythmic hard-drumming honky-tonk, mostly propelled by his own swagger and the raw honky-tonk sound of it all.  Even if doesn’t break any new ground in his sound just yet, this album won’t disappoint fans of Dwight’s previous work.

Grade: B+

This album is still available, both digitally and on CD, from amazon.

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3 responses to “Album Review: Dwight Yoakam – ‘If There Was A Way’

  1. Tom January 12, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    …to me this is album is the answer to his wondering, whether there was a way. although, sharing roughly the same structure of it predecessors, this album shows the first signs that dwight yoakam wants to push the boundries of his music further out. the title track is a good example, but also “let’s work together” and “i don’t need it done” are quite experimental and the beautiful “you’re the one” crowns the experimental part of the album. “the heart that you own” is of similar quality as the stand-out songs of his previous releases and the whole album floats very nicely, carried by most agreeable melodies. perhaps the absence of a chart-topper makes this album superficially seem a lesser batch than its predecessors, but it’s actually quite the contrary – it’s the first promising hint of what’s going to happen next.

    • J.R. Journey January 14, 2011 at 1:16 pm

      To my ears, Tom, If There Was A Way was the album that sort of coasted on the sounds Dwight had already pioneered. It’s still a quality album from start to finish. But I don’t hear a substantial change in his music until the This Time album, and even then the changes are rather subtle ones.

      I always thought Dwight’s biggest changes in style, especially to the more experimental and almost-radical shifts you’re talking about, didn’t come until after his hit-making heyday was over. But Dwight never seemed like the kind of artist who chased radio success; that just sort of fell into his lap.

  2. Razor X January 13, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    This is an outstanding album — “The Distance Between You and Me”, “Send A Message To My Heart”, and “The Heart That You Own” are all great, great songs.

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