I miss the days when major label country music artists could be counted on to release albums once a year like clockwork. Not only did it ultimately mean more music in the hands of the consumer, but it also gave the artist a bit of a safety net if he or she wanted to experiment a bit. If an album wasn’t quite up to par, the fans could take consolation in the knowledge that it wouldn’t be too long before a new — and hopefully better — album would be released. But under the current business model, where it’s not unusual for the wait between albums to be five or more years, it is a huge disappointment when an album isn’t to one’s liking. And this is, unfortunately, the case with Dwight Yoakam’s latest release 3 Pears.
In addition to being Yoakam’s first studio album in five years, and his first collection of (mostly) original material since 2005’s Blame The Vain, 3 Pears also marks his return to Warner Bros., the label of his commercial heyday. It could have been — and should have been — one of the biggest events of the year in country music. But unfortunately, the album has little to do with actual country music, and seems to be more influenced by 1960s rock groups such as The Beatles and The Mamas and The Papas than Buck Owens or George Jones.
It’s hard not to like a Dwight Yoakam album, and I should make it perfectly clear that 3 Pears is by no means a terrible album, but it falls short of the high bar set by Dwight’s earlier work and it is not the album I was hoping for. While I wasn’t expecting a Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc, Etc or Hillbilly Deluxe, I was expecting an eclectic set encompassing a variety of styles, with at least a few traditional country numbers to balance things out. Instead, 3 Pears is dominated by too-loud electric guitars, too much reverb and very little that is particularly memorable. The one ostensibly traditional number — a cover of “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke” is obnoxiously overproduced with the loud electric guitars and equally loud and unnecessary percussion taking the place of the fiddle and steel of the classic Joe Maphis and Vern Gosdin versions.
The opening track “Take Hold Of My Hand”, a co-write with Kid Rock, is a pleasant enough toe-tapper that would have sounded at home on Dwight’s 2000 effort Tomorrow’s Sounds Today, but things begin to deteriorate with the second track “Waterfall”, the first of two Yoakam-penned songs with bizarre lyrics (the other song being the title track). It’s clearly meant to be tongue-in-cheek but I just can’t get into lyrics like
If I had a jellyfish
I betcha we would never miss
A single peanut butter kiss or squeeze
If I had a big giraffe
He’d have to take a real long bath
And that’s why waterfalls are really neat
The lyrics to the title track are downright incomprehensible, talking about “three pairs” of various items — glasses, shades, shoes, and not the three pieces of fruit implied by the spelling of the title or the album’s cover art. My other big beef with this song is the synthesizer track that would have been intrusive even by 1980s standards.
That’s not to say that everything here is bad. “It’s Never Alright” is a nice midtempo number written with Ashley Monroe, and “Long Way To Go” is an excellent number that is reminiscent of Dwight’s 90s work. An alternate, piano-led acoustic version of the song appears as the album’s closing track. Both versions are highly enjoyable, as is “Missing Heart”, a mostly acoustic ballad that shows that Dwight is still in good vocal form, and that he doesn’t need to overwhelm his voice with loud, cluttered production and reverb effects.
In general, the second half of the album is better than the first half and the album’s better tracks show that Dwight is still capable of making worthwhile music. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll hear any of the songs from 3 Pears on country radio. While I can’t recommend the entire album without reservation, I do think it’s worth cherry-picking and individually downloading some of the better tracks such as “It’s Never Alright”, “Missing Heart”, and both versions of “Long Way To Go”. The rest of the album is just filler. I hope that we don’t have to wait another five to seven years for Dwight’s next project, which ideally would be a back to basics project produced by Pete Anderson. In the meantime, I’ll continue to listen to Dwight’s classic 80s and 90s work.