Music » Music Features

Country Outsider at 60

Gearing up for Dwight Yoakam at the Horseshoe Casino in Tunica.



Not many popular musicians, regardless of genre, remain consistently prolific for over three decades behind a body of work defined by its unique balance of artistic veracity and success of the household-name variety. Even rarer is such an artist who frames his 60th birthday with one of the highest profile, most creatively relevant as well as critically acclaimed years in said career. But that's exactly how 2016 has played out for Dwight Yoakam, perhaps mainstream country's longest established purveyor of rugged individualism who hit the big 6-0 less than three weeks ago on the 23rd of October.

Just a month earlier, Yoakam released his 20th studio full-length, Swimmin' Pools, Movie Stars..., which features 11 bluegrass reinterpretations of songs from his back catalog with one rather notable exception: a similarly styled cover of "Purple Rain" that was recorded as an impromptu gesture of mourning as Yoakam and band received the tragic news on April 23rd (their third day in the studio) of this year.

Per an interview with Rolling Stone, Yoakam was originally made uncomfortable after the fact by his band's cover of the Prince classic, but he was encouraged to include it on the album (it's the closing track and was released as the second promotional single) by former Warner Bros. Records president Lenny Waronker.

Yoakam's resume as a respected TV and film actor was also bolstered this year by roles in Amazon Studios' eight-episode, straight-to-web legal thriller Goliath (reuniting him with his Sling Blade costar Billy Bob Thornton), the "Bar Fights" episode of Drunk History that aired just a week prior, and a second-billed turn in the feature-length oil field drama, Boomtown.

Dwight Yoakam has been a country music outlier from the start, when his organic honky tonk and country-rock stylings were considered commercial kryptonite against the ultra-slick, post-Countrypolitan urban cowboy sound and aesthetic with which the industry was enamored during the early '80s (essentially responsible for country's first true wide-scale acceptance into mainstream popular culture). Yoakam's understandable disenchantment with Nashville took him to L.A., where he focused on playing venues favored by that scene's underground roots-rock and punk bands, sharing bills with the Blasters, Los Lobos, and X before self-financing his debut album.

Yoakam has also regularly displayed pretty good taste in non-country covers by releasing versions of the Clash's great pop moment, "Train in Vain," as well as Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me."

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