Dwight’s third album was released in August 1988, and was another big hit for him. It was eventually certified platinum, and was his third (and surprisingly last) #1 album. produced as before by Pete Anderson, the mood is determinedly retro-cool with prominent fiddle and sometimes steel allied to a strong beat and Dwight’s hillbilly whine which imbues the songs with emotion.
Ever since his rise to prominence, Dwight had openly admitted the major influence of the Bakersfield Sound in general and Buck Owens in particular, and the great man came out of retirement to duet with Dwight on the first single, ‘Streets Of Bakersfield’ (a revival of a Homer Joy song which Buck had recorded back in the 70s). It became Dwight’s first, and Buck’s last, #1 single. A defiant stand against those who looked down on the southerners who lived in Bakersfield in the 60s, the duet sounds a little cheerier and buddyish than the lyrics demand, but it’s an entertaining track, helped along with Flaco Jimenez’s accordion. Buck was to make this a real comeback attempt, recording three new albums for his old label Capitol in the next few years, but radio was cool towards his new solo material and he retired again.
Dwight, on the other hand, was on an upswing, both commercially and artistically. ‘The Streets Of Bakersfield’ was followed to the top by the outstanding story song ‘I Sang Dixie’. The protagonist sings the song ‘Dixie’ as an act of love for a dying alcoholic from the south washed up in LA, as others pass by unmoved. Touching without being sentimental, and beautifully played, this is one of my favorite ever Dwight Yoakam songs.
The gritty romantic opening track ‘I Got You’ is all about love getting you through the hard times served up with a little helping of wit and an insistent rhythm. This was the third single, and hit #5.
‘Buenas Noches From A Lonely Room (She Wore Red Dresses)’, the title track and final single, was not a hit with radio, failing to creep inside the top 40. It is another story song, but this time a Mexican flavored murder ballad which calls to mind some of Marty Robbins’ big hits, with more Flaco Jimenez. It is one of several songs on the record in which Dwight’s take on cheating songs leans to explorations of the cuckold’s murderous response, although this is the only one where he actually proceeds to commit the deed. All are excellent.
In the mid-tempo ‘What I Don’t Know’ he isn’t quite certain his woman is doing him wrong (or rather, doesn’t want his suspicions confirmed), but his gun is ready:
Smith and Wesson juries hold a real mean nasty court
And the verdict that they pass is never slow
In the prettier sounding but equally bleak ‘One More Name’, he broods darkly as his wife is talking unwisely in her sleep, confirming the local gossip he has denied. The protagonist’s palpable hurt and desperation not to believe the truth make these songs more than just expressions of revenge; you can sympathise with the pain if not the homicidal intention.
‘Floyd County’ paints the picture of the funeral of a family man from the mountains of Kentucky.
Dwight wrote the majority of the songs, but a couple of classic hits from the 50s also got fairly respectful covers. Cash’s ‘Home Of The Blues’ is efficient and enjoyable enough but closer to filler than anything else here. Hank Locklin’s romantic pleader ‘Send Me The Pillow’ is sung as a duet with rock (and onetime cowpunk) singer Maria McKee (with Pete Anderson playing mandolin). The less well known rockabillyish ‘I Hear You Knockin’ is cheerfully vibrant.
Dwight closes the album with a slice of traditional-style country gospel, ‘Hold On To God’ (written and recorded for his mother), with harmony vocals from a short-lived duo called the Lonesome Strangers who had been included on one of the Town South Of Bakersfield compilations which had introduced a number of LA based country artists including Dwight himself.
This is an excellent example of the neotraditional movement of the late 80s, and one which stands up exceptionally well today, with no weak tracks. It was records like this that revived some of the traditional forms of country music without making them sound old-fashioned to a new generation.
Inexpensive copies are easy to find.