Dwight Yoakam has always been regarded as the man who—like Gram Parsons before him—made country music palatable and even exciting for a new generation of rock and roll listeners, and he did so, funnily enough, by hewing closer to traditional country sounds than most anything else coming out of Nashville. So when I say that Second Hand Heart feels weirdly like his most country and his most rock and roll album yet, I guess what I mean by that is that it’s quintessential Yoakam—tough as nails, sweet as pie, proudly rooted in the honky tonk but perfectly content to ride on a giddy swagger that gleefully reclaims the joy and playfulness of the 60s.
In that sense it’s of a piece with the wonderful 12 Pears from a couple years back, if anything playing up the Beatles impulse and playing down the straight-ahead country just a bit, though of course that’s relative, and this album packs plenty twang (and some serious heat) on the old warhorse “Man of Constant Sorrow,” which thrashes and snarls like punk rock. It is a considerable testament to Yoakam’s effortless touch that he not only finds new shades of meaning in this much-interpreted song but that his genre-blurring treatment of it feels natural, not affected, and the same could be said of the ringing pop of “She,” the drawling “Off Your Mind” (the album’s clearest Bakersfield moment, winning for how it combines sorrow and playfulness in equal measure), the barnstorming rock and roller “Liar,” and the strutting “The Big Time.”
The album doesn’t slow down often—and when it does, on the wistful “Dreams of Clay,” it tends to be a little less vital than when it rocks—but finds romance and optimism in its raggedness, determination in its electric hum; in sound and in song it mirrors Yoakam’s fully-engaged return to recording, another renaissance recording from one of American roots music’s greatest renaissance men.