He didn't decide to reach only into country's great past to record chestnuts in putting out the 12-song "Under the Covers," out in mid-July. Not unless you count The Clash, Sonny & Bono and The Kinks as country artists.
Although, Yoakam didn't eschew country as he recorded Johnny Horton's "North to Alaska" and Glen Campbell's "Wichita Lineman."
This project was a long time in coming with most of it recorded about a year ago, before he embarked on the "Gone" tour in the summer of 1996. In fact, a few tracks were recorded for "La Croix D'Amour," released abroad six years ago, but never in the States.
Once again, Yoakam's long-time ace guitarist Pete Anderson produced the album. And with Yoakam doing very few interviews as usual, Anderson was happy to talk about the album.
"It's been very casual," says Anderson. "We've been working on and off for 1 1/2 years."
"A lot of it was stuff we played in the clubs - 'Goodtime Charlie' (a big hit for Danny O'Keefe) and 'North to Alaska,'" says Anderson in an interview just after finishing a gig in the Boston area in support of blues-based solo album on his own Little Dog Records label.
Taras Prodaniuk, Yoakam's bass player, says he views the album as "generally...a real musical journey."
"We wanted to put a twist on it," Anderson says of the cover songs.
The usual wisdom with doing a covers album is you have to put your own tattoo on the songs. Otherwise, why would anyone be interested in listening to music they well may already know quite well?
One of the twists was having bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley play banjo on The Clash's "Train In Vain," a far different version than the original from the British punk group.
Yoakam used his regular band including Skip Edwards on keyboards, Scott Joss on fiddle and mandolin and Prodaniuk on bass in recording the disc.
"On some level, it's harder because we were searching for cool covers to do," Prodaniuk says. "You had to be willing to tweak it. Here's the song someone else has done. It's harder when you're going in a different direction."
Prodaniuk says he thinks Yoakam put his own mark on "Goodbye Charlie." "When you hear Dwight sing it, his way, it's a whole new way. It's kind of disconcerting."
Just what songs eventually made it onto the album seemed to be a collaboration between Yoakam and his producer. "I wanted to do "Baby Don't Go," says Anderson of the Sonny & Cher song. Sheryl Crow sings a duet with Yoakam on the track. "We got her at the last minute," Anderson says.
Anderson says Yoakam and company "goofed around" in recording "The Last Time," the Rolling Stones song.
Yoakam also goes British in putting his spin on The Kinks's "Tired of Waiting for You" and The Beatles's "Things We Said Today."
"Wichita Lineman" was the last song recorded for the album, put down only a few months ago. And it almost didn't make it. Instead, there was talk of cutting the song for a movie starring Sylvester Stallone and Robert DeNiro.
Anderson says the idea was to have the song played as the end credits roll. When someone associated with the movie thought Yoakam should sing it, "we thought it was a great idea," Anderson says.
The moviemakers went back and forth and eventually decided to stick with the original.
"Dwight said, 'It's a great song, so we should record it,'" Anderson says.
Prodaniuk describes the song as "such a classic. You got to let go of the original version from your brain...and do this new thing."
"If you're playing it like the Glen Campbell version, what's the point?" Prodaniuk says, adding, "It's not necessarily hard. You wrack your brain. You have to search harder. You have to let go of the (original) song."
"North to Alaska" was not the first time Yoakam, 40, cut a Johnny Horton song. He had his first big hit with "Honky Tonk Man" from his major label 1986 debut album, "Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc. Etc."
"Under the Covers" follows 1995's "Gone," a critically received album, which did not do boffo numbers because Yoakam received very little airplay for what was probably his most musically diverse album. And in some parts of the country, his tour did not draw crowds either.
Anderson downplays any kind of pressure in putting out an album that would bring Yoakam back to the commercial fore. He says Yoakam told him, "The next record is for me."Anderson seems almost resigned to radio not playing the record. The first single, "Claudette," was penned by Roy Orbison and was a hit for The Everly Brothers.
"We're just putting out a record," Anderson says. "It's not that he doesn't have the songs."Artists sometimes will put out a covers album because they don't have enough songs for a new disc of original material.
Yoakam has spent a good chunk of time recently on the silver screen. He played Doyle Hargraves in Billy Bob Thornton's Oscar winning film "Sling Blade." He currently is filming "The Newton Boys" in Texas with Matthew McConaughey and Ethan Hawke.
Yoakam will not tour in support of the new album. Instead, he will continue a busy year with recording another new album starting in August. A holiday album of well-known songs recorded last year is slated to be out this fall.
Until then, Yoakam fans will have to stay with "Under the Covers."