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Reprise Please Baby: The Warner Bros. Years (Remastered)

Dwight Yoakam

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Album Review

Randy Travis sold more records and George Strait was a purer country singer, but Dwight Yoakam was as influential as either on country music in the '80s. A Kentucky-born, Ohio-raised refugee from Nashville, he headed out to California where he managed to play Bakersfield country for L.A. punks, laying the groundwork for the Americana movement of the late '80s and '90s by not only revitalizing classic country from honky tonks to country-pop ballads through his traditionalist readings, but treating rock songs in a similar fashion. Nowhere is this more apparent than on Rhino's excellent four-disc box set Reprise Please Baby: The Warner Bros. Years, a superb chronicling of his time at Reprise/Warner Records. What makes this set so successful is that it doesn't focus simply on the hits, though they're all here. Instead of just the hits, they're interlaced with key album tracks, covers, duets, and songs cut for compilations, all necessary to understanding Yoakam's music and his influence. Take his superlative duet with Flaco Jimenez on Warren Zevon's "Carmelita" and how it blurs the lines between country, punk, classic rock, and singer/songwriters, creating the sound that would come to be known as Americana. Nearly every alt-country artist sought this expert balance of self-consciously classic instrumentation, contemporary subject matter, stylized yet sincere delivery, and clean production — a delicate balance many sought to replicate, yet few succeeded in capturing. It's a brilliant moment, but one that wasn't on any Dwight album, and this rightly presents it, among other rarities, as key parts of his legacy. Among the revelations on Reprise Please Baby is that Yoakam had this balance perfected from the beginning, from before he released his landmark debut, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.; his ten-track demo from 1981 is included here on the all-previously unreleased fourth disc, and it holds its own among his best albums in both its songwriting and performance. This entire disc — which also contains two fine duets with Kelly Willis and a string of covers, recorded anywhere from 1986 to 2002, all very good, with a nimble "Oh Lonesome Me" and a rip-roaring "My Bucket's Got a Hole in It" standing as particular highlights — makes it necessary for collectors, but the set wouldn't be much if it was just for the completists. What makes it such a success is that it presents Yoakam's full achievement through a sharp, thorough examination of his prodigious output, turning in a convincing case for his greatness while being a hell of an entertaining listen. He produced his share of great albums, but Reprise Please Baby tells everything country fans of any stripe need to know.

Biography

Born: 23 October 1956 in Pikeville, KY

Genre: Country

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

With his stripped-down approach to traditional honky tonk and Bakersfield country, Dwight Yoakam helped return country music to its roots in the late '80s. Like his idols Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and Hank Williams, Yoakam never played by Nashville's rules; consequently, he never dominated the charts like his contemporary Randy Travis. Then again, Travis never played around with the sound and style of country music like Yoakam. On each of his records, he twists around the form enough to make it...
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