Far from Gone

Dwight Yoakam's latest conjures up echoes of '60s AM radio

"I have certain musical foundations, but beyond that I'm not limited to or made a prisoner by musical parameters," Yoakam says. "I think what we're experiencing on the last couple of albums is the expanding of those parameters or eclipsing those earlier parameters that were self-imposed or, rather, embraced by me.

"As disparate as these things seem on the surface, ironically Gone is a more connected album than anything I've ever done in terms of the individuality of each of the tracks connecting it in that way. You know what I'm saying? On previous albums, there were songs where you could hear two or three songs that were linked to each other...but not this one."

Yoakam, like most of his contemporaries, was raised on a post-Beatles diet, influenced as much by the "Ed Sullivan" era as the traditional strains of country he heard coming from his folks' stereo and the hymns they'd sing around the dinner table in their old Kentucky home. His musical education came from radio--his lectures provided by the disc jockeys who were less concerned with color than with quality, his reading list fulfilled by the hundreds of disparate artists whose music he listened to at night.

"There was a moment," Yoakam says nostalgically of that time. "Radio exploded in the '60s with this cross-pollination that gave us rock and roll and hillbilly music and the black jump blues. It exploded in the '60s with this massive saturation of all styles and idioms of pop music being played on the same radio stations quite often. I could hear Buck Owens right behind the Supremes in front of the Tijuana Brass and right before Them with Van Morrison leading into the Statler Brothers doing 'Flowers on the Wall' back into the Byrds and Dylan on into whatever."

Gone is nothing less than an homage to those memories, an eclectic barrage of styles and influences that play themselves out like some lost signal retrieved from another time. It's distinctively Yoakam but imbued with the touch of dozens of other musicians, heard in the familiar twang of Buck Owens on "Don't Be Sad," the unexpected British Invasion-era rock of "Never Hold You," the Herb Alpert-Tijuana Brass polish of "Sorry You Asked," the sweet countrypolitan strings of "Heart of Stone," the border-town conjunto of "Baby Why Not," the Buddy Holly-gone-Beatles "Near You," and the late-'60s horns-and-orchestral melodrama of Elvis Presley with "Nothing."

It's a dense, often overwhelming collection of music that "blows by you," to use Yoakam's words, the first few times you listen to it because the album assumes so many other identities it initially sounds as though it has none of its own. Only after a few listens, after you sift through the sitars and strings and Hammond organs and accordions and they begin to fall by the wayside to reveal great songs, do you realize Gone is a thousand brilliant steps removed from Guitars, Cadillac. If that debut album was the product of a young man just learning his craft and faltering with the jargon of his tradition, Gone is the creation of a man who has become fluent in so many other languages.

"The songs on Gone are the echoes that ricochet around my brain and then kind of hurl themselves past my lips in my own interpretations," Yoakam says. "They're also the sounds I hear now in my head. See, these are not literal emulations--it's not a tribute record to a sound, it's not a concept record--it's just what it is. It's as raw as some of the stuff you might hear on alternative radio in terms of how we approached me playing rhythm electric guitar and leaving it out there at a more organic point.

"[Producer] Pete [Anderson] used an analogy I think is very accurate. When we were in the studio and starting to cut the tracks, he said, 'If the last album was the equivalent of an architectural drawing, then this album is probably a watercolor painting.' The beauty of watercolors is they'll flow together, and the real art of the medium is how they maintain their separation. It's a fascinating medium and it's a tough medium because those lines of separation are not always clear.

"On the earlier albums, we weren't writing this chapter. I wasn't setting out at first to articulate these thoughts. I'm at a more expressive place, perhaps. I've done the preface, if you will, I've written that and explained myself musically to use the analogy of this being a language and a vocabulary. Now I'm in the body of the story.

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