Under The Covers is the first of Dwight Yoakam’s three covers albums; four if you count the compilation In Others’ Words, which consisted of previously released material, all cover songs. This set is a collection of songs originally made famous by mostly rockers, but with a sprinkling of rockabilly and countrypolitan sounds. Prior to writing this review, repeated listenings had familiarized me with all of Yoakam’s retreads, but I had yet to hear many of these in their original form until recently. What I found was that while Dwight stays fairly close to the original recordings for the most part here, he effortlessly infuses them with the signature sounds of his own hits: which means he’s amped them up, added some killer guitar licks and his trademark breathy twang to these rock and roll perennials.
Kicking things off with a paint-by-numbers take on Roy Orbison’s ‘Claudette’, the mood for this album is immediately established with this energetic tune. Though the Everly Brothers recorded the first version as a B-side to their 1958 mega-hit ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’, Yoakam’s recording comes complete with the call-and-answer guitar work that instantly define an Orbison hit, and is more closely tied to Roy’s recording of the tune penned for his then-wife. ‘Claudette’ was released as the album’s first single, but failed to make it farther than #47 on the Country Singles chart. Even with the absence of a radio hit, Under The Covers still debuted at #8 on the Country Albums chart, and has to date sold over 350,000 copies.
From there, Yoakam jumps into punk-rock territory with his take on ‘Train In Vain’, the third single from The Clash’s 1980 London Calling album. Here, Yoakam puts a decided country spin on the song, with its plucky banjo lead and the smothering of the lyrics with his Kentucky drawl. Banjo-picking and added vocals by Dr. Ralph Stanley also elevate this track far beyond normal standards.
‘Baby Don’t Go’ features Sheryl Crow and as the second single, failed to chart. The first hit by Sonny & Cher – before ‘I Got You Babe’ – it stands as one of those songs that didn’t really need a remake, even though the pair of singers give it the old-school try and the production recalls the doo-wop sound of the original, it lacks that 60s originality to my ears. Also, Dwight singing the Cher lines and Sheryl singing Sonny’s lines in the verses certainly take away from the lyric’s punch. I’d much rather have heard their take on ‘A Cowboy’s Work Is Never Done’.
‘Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues’ was a hit for its writer Danny O’Keefe before being covered by Elvis Presley and Waylon Jennings, among others. In it, a half-way mature man is contemplating his desires over their known consequences, and the melancholy feel of the production more than fits with the story told. Voyeurism breeds loneliness and despair in ‘Here Comes The Night’, my favorite track on the album, and it benefits a lot from its big chorus that’s almost tailor-made for Yoakam’s vocal style. This landmark rock recording was written by the legendary Bert Berns, who also penned classics such as ‘Twist and Shout’, ‘I Want Candy’ and ‘Piece Of My Heart’, and was a hit for Them, featuring lead singer Van Morrison, in 1965.
Still, more of rock and roll’s biggest movers and shakers of all time are represented here with a bluegrass-influenced take on The Rolling Stones’ ‘The Last Time’ and a faithful, if modernized, version of The Beatles’ ‘Things We Said Today’ from their Hard Day’s Night Soundtrack. The song was also the B-side to the movie’s title single.
Only a handful of country songs are included here, and all found nearly as much success on the pop chart as their country counterparts. A rather redundant, and overly loud, Motown-influenced cover of Jimmy Webb/Glen Campbell’s ‘Wichita Lineman’ sits in the middle of the album among all the rock classics.
But stacked at the end is the double-track country selection. Labeled is Johnny Horton’s ‘North To Alaska’, which features a walking bass-line intro to make it undoubtedly Dwight Yoakam. Before the last notes to ‘Alaska’ are finished reverberating, the nine-minute track launches into the ‘hidden’ recording of ‘T For Texas’ aka ‘Blue Yodel No. 1′, the first of Jimmie Rodgers’ 13 Blue Yodel Songs, and one of the most-covered among the landmark recordings. Dwight has electrified the American standard on this album, channeling it as a blues song more in the style of Muddy Waters than Jimmie Rogers.
The biggest flaw with this record is that it doesn’t seem Dwight looked very far past a Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits: 1960s Edition to find these songs, as nearly all of them saw their chart peaks between the same 10-year span. But he did go out of his way to pick obscure tunes that hadn’t been covered a blue million times, and has added what can only be a Dwight Yoakam influence to these songs that influenced his own artistry.
Under The Covers is still widely available on CD and digitally from amazon.