Lost Record of the Week: Dwight Yoakam, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.
So, still no Buck Owens this week, but I went for the next best thing: Dwight Yoakam. I bought some of his CDs so long ago, I don’t even remember doing it. They’ve just always been on my shelf. Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. is a kick up your heels, go two-stepping at the local country bar disc that reminded me of the music we heard at Calgary Stampede pancake breakfasts in grocery store parking lots when I was a kid. Released in 1986, it probably is what I was hearing. Made up of tearful ballads and up-tempo tunes, it’s the perfect honky tonk record. And with lyrics like this:
It won’t hurt when I fall down from this bar stool
And it won’t hurt when I stumble in the street
It won’t hurt ‘cause this whiskey eases misery
But even whiskey cannot ease your hurting me
what else can you call it?
Yoakam opens with “Honky Tonk Man,” a cover of Johnny Horton’s song from 1956. This song sets up the energetic atmosphere that persists throughout the album, and most of the songs could easily be dropped onto the jukebox at the local tavern for some two-stepping. The mood continues with “It Won’t Hurt,” (see lyrics above) in which Yoakam details a heartache that not even his steadfast whiskey can cure.
In “I’ll Be Gone,” Yoakam paints himself as the dashing heartbreaker who escapes early after a one-night stand, telling his woman that despite her allure, he’s just not the committin’ type. His brief reminders to her are augmented nicely by sharp little mandolin fills by David Mansfield. Some of the best lyric writing of the album appears on “South of Cincinnati,” a waltz dripping with sorrowful pedal steel and evocative references:
At a cold gray apartment in Chicago
A cigarette drowns inside a glass of gin
He lies there drunk but it don’t matter drunk or sober
He’ll never read the words that pride won’t let her send
Of course, after a sweet duet with Maria McKee on “Bury Me,” the title track of the album is familiar to anyone who knows Yoakam’s work. He maintains his detached, hurt-proof, cowboy persona for this song, listing guitars, Cadillacs, and hillbilly music as his only reliable companions.
“Miner’s Prayer” is one of the more sombre moments of the album. A song dedicated to the memory of Yoakam’s grandfather, a Kentucky coal miner, it tells the story of a miner seeing a long-awaited sweet release from suffering in his impending death. This tune is bracketed by a rip-roaring cover of “Ring of Fire” and another of Harlan Howard’s “Heartaches By The Number,” a classic also sung by Ray Price and George Jones that details a man enduring multiple breakups.
Yoakam’s voice is perfectly suited to this material, cracking tearfully and hiccupping through the tear-in-your-beer lyrics. It is equally forceful and fragile, wavering during lyrical moments of sadness, and scooping beautifully during those of independence and freedom. His band is star-studded, with Glen D. Hardin on piano (who played in Emmylou’s Hot Band and with Elvis), and Jay Dee Maness on pedal steel. Brantley Kearns is particularly sharp on fiddle, adding a real focal point to the honky tonk numbers. The more I listened to this album over the week, the more I discovered in every single song. I marvelled at the tightness of the band, the slick production, and the aesthetic vision of those behind the album, who seemed to know exactly when to finish off a song—nothing is too long or left hanging. I noticed when I pulled out the liner notes that Pete Anderson produced the album, which explains its polish. Anderson, who produced other Yoakam albums, is known for his ability to go in and clean up a band, generating an album that is unlike any other in their catalogue.
Overall, great album. It will be hard to give this one up and move on next week.