My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Dwight Yoakam – ‘Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.’

Even though Guitars, Cadillacs hit the streets in the Summer of 1986, Dwight Yoakam had recorded the set a full two years earlier for the small Oak Records label out of California.  The stories behind most of these songs actually date back to the late 1970s when a young Dwight chose the southern California music scene over Nashville with its urban country music fan trends of the time.  From the honky tonks and punk rock clubs in and around Bakersfield, Dwight honed his sound and picked up a considerable following for his unique brand of hard honky-tonk with straightforward rock and roll-influenced lyrics.  The club favorite Yoakam soon found himself with a contract with the new-to-country Warner Brothers affiliate Reprise Records.

His first single for the label was a cover of a song Johnny Horton had a hit with not once, but twice.  But where Horton’s two hits had dangled around the top 10 both times, Dwight took the song into the top 5, at an eventual #3 peak.  Hard-driving bass lines backed by a twangy fiddle characterize Dwight’s debut single – the sound that would quickly become his signature.  Next up to radio was the album’s title track.  It too follows the hillbilly rock sound format while Dwight sings so fondly of all the trappings that hillbilly rock stars love, it would make anybody want to move to Bakersfield, or at least go for an extended visit.  This was another top 5 hit, landing at #4 just about the time of the album’s release.

But for all his immediate popularity, even Dwight couldn’t yet revive the country shuffle at radio as ‘It Won’t Hurt’ barely cracked the top 40 as the album’s third and final single.  This is one of my favorite tracks on the album, and as is evidenced here, few could match Dwight’s mournful wail when he was singing this kind of love-lost ballad – the theme that would serve as a constant on each album following this.

The centerpiece of Guitars, Cadillacs to me has always been the acoustic ballad ‘South of Cincinnati’ that tells of two lovers, 14 years separated.  Here, a woman writes the simple chorus daily on a letter kept tucked inside the Book of Luke in her Bible.  Meanwhile, the man she pines for is also miserable, holed up drunk in a Chicago apartment.  This kind of simple, woeful tale of unrequited love would also come to dot Dwight’s catalog.

Likewise top-notch are the country barn-burner ‘Bury Me’ a duet with Maria McKee, whose twangy timbre is a perfect match for Dwight’s vocal.  I always thought the two should have recorded more together.  The banjo-infused ‘I’ll Be Gone’ and the way-too-clever ‘Twenty Years’ are also not to be missed.

‘Miner’s Prayer’ is a heartfelt and honest narrative told in the voice of a coal miner, which Dwight wrote in memory of his grandfather Luther Tibbs, who himself was a miner for 40 years.  But it finds itself sandwiched between two redundant covers towards the end of the album.  Dwight’s reading here of ‘Heartaches By The Number’ is enjoyable enough, but his performance lacks the originality of his own material.

Guitars, Cadillacs would be the first of many Dwight Yoakam albums produced by Pete Anderson.  Save for the three cover songs, Yoakam wrote each song for the album and the singer tackles several styles – all decidedly traditional country and all each his own.  With this album, Dwight Yoakam made a mark on the country music scene, but also delivered a timeless collection of quality honky tonk and solid country music.

Grade: A

The album is still widely available at amazon. The 2006 re-release, which features 10 demo tracks from 1981 and 12 additional live recordings from 1986 – for a total of 32 songs – is a much better bargain at roughly the same price.

9 responses to “Album Review: Dwight Yoakam – ‘Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.’

  1. ken Johnson January 5, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    Dwight Yoakam is probably the last true country stylist. Can’t think of another act since his debut who has such a very specific sound.

    Though Reprise records made their first major effort to become a “country” label in 1986 they had dabbled with country music much earlier. Del Reeves’ producer Slim Williamson leased two singles to Reprise in 1963. One of them charted in Billboard peaking at #13 -“The Only Girl I Can’t Forget.”

    Emmylou Harris launched her country career with Reprise in 1975. She remained on that imprint until it’s roster was folded into parent label Warner Brothers in 1977.

  2. Occasional Hope January 5, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    ‘It Won’t Hurt’ is my favourite track.

    I quite like Dwight’s cover of Heartaches By The Number, but his version of Ring Of Fire sounds uninspired in comparison to everything else here.

  3. Rick January 5, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    An little aside: Pete Anderson plays gigs around LA and his own personal music sounds nothing at all like Dwight’s! Pete is much more of a blues guy in his live show with few traces of hillbilly music present.

    The only Dwight CD I own is “Dwight’s Used Records” because I’ve never cared much for his nasally singing voice. Its just a shame he didn’t have a voice like Faron Young or Carl Smith…

  4. Leeann Ward January 5, 2011 at 11:20 pm

    This is a great album and I’m excited that Dwight is going to be your spotlight artist. He’s one of my very favorites. And to think I really disliked his music when I was a kid.

  5. J.R. Journey January 6, 2011 at 11:21 am

    I got the same impression from both covers, Hope. On this first album, it seems Dwight hadn’t quite mastered putting his own spin on chestnuts from the past. Luckily, he overcame that, as any of his covers albums demonstrate.

    Like Leeann, Dwight Yoakam wasn’t very high on my list of favorites when I was younger, but the older I get the more I appreciate his unique sound, but mostly the hard-hitting lyrics in his songs. I’m more excited for Yoakam than I have been for a spotlight artist in quite some time myself.

  6. plain_jo January 6, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    I learned to appreciate Dwight Yoakam in the last 5 years or so. Guitars, Cadillacs etc. is a great album and the one that made me dig deeper into his catalog of records.

  7. Pingback: The Bellamy Brothers Raise Questions Over Britney Spears Single; George Strait/Reba McEntire Lead Country Tours in 2010 | The 9513

  8. Ben Foster February 2, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    I just came across this album at my local library, and I’ve been listening to it. I think yes – Win!

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