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Dwight Yoakam returns to roots

By Jeffrey B. Remz, June 1998

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"Traveler's Lantern" with bluegrass great Ralph Stanley helping on backing vocals and banjo finds Yoakam singing of providing light for others in their time of need.

"I heard the echoes of my grandmother doing the callback to me," Yoakam says.

As for the introspective side, Yoakam says it has resulted in an interesting by-product for the disc.

"Ironically, I think because of that (introspection), it's been received as more accessible because we all do share that kind of place of introspection," Yoakam says.

"The emotional themes are still fairly universal," he says. "I felt afterwards it kind of eclipsed romantic context."

The song "Listen," where Yoakam demands you do just that from the opening word, on the face of it is about a couple pulling away, despite the admonition, "Don't run so far off today."

Yoakam says he wrote it "obviously (about) somebody I had a romantic inclination towards. As I move away from it now, I interpret the song to having more to do with the inner voice."

He says it's the song from the album that "probably I'm fondest of. It's a certain kind of giving over to that reality in all of us. We are able to up at any given moment and we're a long way from home, figuratively speaking."

"I tend to write a composite form with regard to things being specific or not," Yoakam says. "There are specific things verse to verse that might be only addressed in my mind and that verse acts a catalyst for the rest of the song. In the case of this album, "Things Change" was also written with someone in mind."

This was the first album where Yoakam had no songwriting partners. In the past, he's written many songs with Kostas ("Try Not to Look So Pretty") and one with the late Roger Miller ("It Only Hurts When I Cry").

But there was no master plan to go it alone. "It just happened that way with this one," Yoakam says.

As for his preference, Yoakam says, "Roger Miller put it best...He always figured it was like a cat having its kitten. You crawl underneath the porch and have them by yourself. There's something to be said for that - the solitude of creating alone. I think you can learn from others by collaborating, but if you ask which do I prefer, I think I still prefer finding enough inspiration in myself to do it alone."

"Kostas was secure in his own talent that he always allowed me to finish the lyric of the second verse, the third verse," Yoakam says. "We would collaborate on an initial thesis line and the melody and the shift to the bridge because it was a piece of material for my own album, I said, 'I'll work on that verse, chorus before I go into cut,' and then we'd move onto cut it. It was a great way to work."

This doesn't mean Yoakam won't write with others again.

Yoakam's public presence in recent months has focused more on the silver screen than the concert hall. Yoakam, whose credits include "Red Rock West" and "Sling Blade," recently earned praise for his role as an explosives expert in "The Newton Boys" and appears in an HBO production "When Trumpets Fade" June 27 as the commanding officer ordering his young troops to almost certain death on the front line in World War II.

Yoakam plans to put off touring until next year. "I think sometimes you can get out ahead (of an album). I want to tour with this material, but probably because of the schedule we're going to keep, I'm starting to film in late June, July ("Minus Man"). I'm going hopefully to direct this western I wrote. So, maybe next year I hope (to tour)."

"I want to continue to act and it will depend on parts that are available, parts that are offered," says Yoakam. "I'm fortunate to have another outlet for expression as a performer and have a pretty good day job."

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