Album: Dwight Yoakam

Population Me, Electrodisc/Audium
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The Independent Culture

He might be just one of a vast army of performers these days, but it's worth remembering that back in the mid-Eighties, Dwight Yoakam was the man chiefly responsible for the new-country wave of "big hat acts" whose ripples continue to lap around American pop today. In recent years, he's been more active in movies than music, developing a nice line in redneck baddies in films such as Red Rock West and Sling Blade, and branching out as writer/director of his own South of Heaven, West of Hell; but this first album for his own Electrodisc label finds Yoakam's voice, and his songwriting, undimmed. Set to arrangements dripping with Dobro, pedal steel and mandolin, songs like "An Exception To The Rule", "Fair To Midland" and the Willie Nelson duet "If Teardrops Were Diamonds" are fine examples of classic country-music cliché-turning, while "No Such Thing" adds a fresh twist to an anthem of lovelorn denial, the singer claiming, "There's no such thing as lonely or blue.../ 'Cause there's no such thing as me and you". Yoakam's affiliation with the Californian sound originally deriving from Bakersfield's Buck Owens is best expressed in Mike Stinson's "The Late Great Golden State", while the sound itself is exemplified in "I'd Avoid Me Too", a self-deprecatory honky-tonk blues. Best of all, perhaps, is the title-track, a lament sung to lonely banjo and restrained fiddle, on which Yoakam's inflections recall Hank Williams as he observes, "Too late to care/ She's no longer here/ The population's me".