Honky-tonk great Dwight Yoakam gives his music the bluegrass treatment | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Honky-tonk great Dwight Yoakam gives his music the bluegrass treatment


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Dwight Yoakam has dabbled in bluegrass now and again over the years—which is yet another aside in a career already filled with flourishes that buck Nashville orthodoxy. Back in the 90s he sang a duet with Ralph Stanley, while on his rock-solid 2015 album Second Hand Heart (Reprise) he included a spirited version of the folk song “Man of Constant Sorrow,” which was popularized by the Stanley Brothers in the 50s. So there shouldn’t be anything too surprising about last year’s terrific Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars . . . (Sugar Hill), on which the singer surveys his own back catalog of tunes accompanied by a top-notch bluegrass ensemble. In fact, what the album conveys even more than Yoakam’s ease in a bluegrass setting—where his nasal, elastic phrasing sounds better than ever—is how good his songs are, easily translating from hard-core honky-tonk into mountain music. The record replants some of his greatest tunes, from his early “Guitars, Cadillacs” to the late-90s single “These Arms,” in that rural setting, adding nicely scuffed vocal harmonies and a soul quotient measurably higher than that of most contemporary bluegrass. As if to drive the point home that a good song is a good song regardless of stylistic treatment, Yoakam closes the album with a cover of Prince’s “Purple Rain,” which not only fits nicely but also underlines the fact that once upon a time country music happily welcomed in all sorts of outside influences.   v

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