My Kind of Country

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Album Review: Dwight Yoakam – ‘Population Me’

The end of the major-label phase of an artist’s career is often characterized by a change in musical direction, as the artist is often freed from the restraints imposed by commercial considerations and allowed to experiment a bit more. Dwight Yoakam is one of those rare artists who was not only allowed to experiment while on a major label, but also managed to be successful in the process. As such, his indie debut is not the radical departure from his earlier work, as one might inspect. On the contrary, Population Me is vintage Yoakam and an almost seamless progression from his earlier work at Reprise.

Released in 2003 on the Audium label, Population Me, like all of Dwight’s earlier work, was produced by Pete Anderson. The album’s two singles, both of which peaked at #52 and were written by outside songwriters, open and close the album. Sandwiched in between are seven original Yoakam compositions and an interesting, banjo-infused cover of the 1960s pop hit “Trains and Boats and Planes”, which was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

First up is “The Late Great Golden State”, an uptempo number with decidedly downbeat lyrics that perhaps prophesize the financial problems California is currently experiencing, though the lyrics themselves never specify why it is referred to as the “late” great Golden State. It deserved to chart higher than it did, and probably would have had it been released a few years earlier when Dwight still had a major label to promote him, and before radio lost interest in his music. Next up is the more traditional “No Such Thing”, a honky-tonker which would have sounded right at home on any of Yoakam’s 80s albums.

“Fair To Midland” borrows its title from the name of a progressive metal band. The mostly acoustic ballad is a reflective play on words about a man who regrets leaving his love behind, and wishes he had the “fare” to Midland to return to her. “An Exception To The Rule” is very much in the same vein as “Things Change” from 1998’s A Long Way Home, so much so that I suspect that it may have been written around the same time. Following “Fair To Midland” is the Dixieland jazz–infused title track, an excellent number in which Dwight is coming to terms with the bleakness, loneliness and bitterness that accompany a breakup. “If Teardrops Were Diamonds” is another standout track that finds Yoakam joining the long, long list of performers to have recorded a duet with Willie Nelson.

Population Me is excellent throughout, but Dwight saved the best for last. The closing track, “The Back Of Your Hand”, which was released as the album’s second and final single is a beautiful folk-flavored ballad. The mostly acoustic arrangement includes a tasteful string section. Written by Gregg Lee Henry, it is one of the best recordings of Dwight’s career.

There is not a weak song to be found in this collection; the album’s only fault is that it is too short, clocking in at about 32 minutes, which definitely leaves the listener wanting more. There are no big hits to be found on Popluation Me, but it’s definitely worth adding to your collection.

Grade:
A

It’s no longer widely available, but it can be purchased through third-party sellers at Amazon. New copies are expensive, but used copies are reasonably priced.