My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Dwight Yoakam – ‘Blame The Vain’

Dwight’s last album of original material to date was this 2005 release on independent label New West, recorded in California. He dispensed with the services of longtime producer Pete Anderson, taking the reins himself, while Keith Gattis (a former RCA recording artist himself) takes Anderson’s role as lead guitarist. The end result is not that different from Dwight’s earlier work, although it is not as traditional as his first few albums. He wrote every song. He sounds energized and committed throughout, despite the overwhelming downbeat nature of the lyrics, with not a happy song in the selection. Mainly they concentrate on the aftermath of failed relationships, with an overarching theme of trying to conceal pain.

The up-tempo ‘Intentional Heartache’ is a story song with a muscular beat about a woman driving away from her cheating man after an assault on his Chevrolet. This is more than a little reminiscent of the following year’s Carrie Underwood hit ‘Before He Cheats’. Interestingly, in both songs the action is moved by the woman’s emotional pain, but the revenge she takes (and sees as having more impact than her heartbreak) is on the man’s possessions, particularly his car. It ends with a spoken outro with Dwight voicing the husband over a thrashing backing, which feels unnecessary. It was a fairly unsuccessful single for Dwight, as was the title track, a rather ironic exploration of the practice of blaming others for one’s problems:

Til there’s nobody left
Then I’ll just blame me…

Blame is always never enough
It just keeps you in the game
Until you’ve only got yourself to bluff

This is a strong and memorable song, but independent labels rarely have the resources to support singles at radio, and like its predecessor it faltered outside the top 50.

The wistful desire to relive the beginnings of a love affair which is coming to an end is expounded in the mid-tempo ‘I Wanna Love Again’, which was the final single. This too is better than its failure to chart would suggest. On a similar theme, ‘When I First Came Here’ initially seems to strikes a rare positive note with its tribute to love, but even this song has a depressing undertow, as it is yet another relationship to have failed leaving the protagonist to face “endless moments alone”.

My favorite track is the slow and lonesome ‘Lucky That Way’, a steel-led number with a faintly familiar tune and perfectly judged phrasing. The title belies the despairing tone of the lyrics as Dwight clings to a new woman while imagining the relationship’s inevitable demise:

Have you ever heard a voice start to moanin’
After despair’s choked its last words away?
Well, any worse sound defies your ears even knowing’
And Lord I’ve heard plenty –
I’m lucky that way

So wrap your warm arms around me
And let our weak hands deal out love’s sad fate

Also excellent is ‘Does It Show’, a restrained yet intense picture of a man trying to hide his heartbreak and continuing love for the woman who has left “love’s biggest clown”, with effective close harmony from Jonathan Clark. The protagonist is equally determined not to admit to pain in the mid-tempo ‘I’ll Pretend’, but the vocal is so agonized perhaps what he is really pretending to himself is that he is even capable of pretending he doesn’t care. In the lowkey and pretty-sounding ‘Just Passin’ Time’ (another highlight), he is beyond pretending, and forlornly wanders the streets and his empty house.

The honky tonking ‘Three Good Reasons’ offers the protagonists’ partner,

I’ll give you three good reasons for leavin’
And number one is that I’ve forgotten number two
Number three is in a place that’s been kept hidden
For so long I can’t remember, but it’s true

This is enjoyable, although it ends up not really going anywhere, and seems to be more about the hook and the groove than anything more substantial.

I really hated the spoken (part shouted, and delivered in a fake accent) intro to ‘She’ll Remember’, which comes across as incredibly pretentious, but the song itself isn’t bad, a bouncy number, although the lyric is rather perplexing – what and why is “she” remembering, when she doesn’t appear to be there to witness the protagonist’s lonely misery? The split-tempo and angry ‘Watch Out’ is a bit repetitive and not very interesting, making it my least favourite track. ‘The Last Heart In Line’ is heavily orchestrated.

This is a good record overall, and often musically adventurous. Since this album, Dwight has released his enjoyable Buck Owens tribute (also on New West), but it is long past time for new music from him. It will be interesting to see what he comes up with after such a long break.

Grade: B+

2 responses to “Album Review: Dwight Yoakam – ‘Blame The Vain’

  1. Jon G. January 31, 2011 at 10:53 am

    I agree with this review overall, including the final grade, but I absolutely love the title track. I’d give it an A+.

  2. Razor X January 31, 2011 at 8:44 pm

    I totally agree with you about the grating accent on the intro to “She’ll Remember”. I also agree that “Lucky That Way” is the best track on the album. I’m not wild about the title track, and unlike most of Dwight’s albums, this is one I tend not to play all the way through very often.

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