Dwight Yoakam's latest is archly named, given that he hasn't made a record this straightforwardly and thoroughly country since his inaugural work in the 1980's. To be sure, Yoakam throws in a few quirks - the country-and-reggae vibe of "For Love's Sake," for instance, and his way-cool cover of Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me," which successfully transforms power pop to country rock.
But from the get-go with the anthemic "Love Caught Up to Me" to hard shuffles like "A Place to Cry" and slow weepers like "A Promise You Can't Keep," this record is defined by Gary Morse's pedal steel guitar - steel figures more prominently here than on any Yoakam album to date - by fiddle and by high country harmonies. In certain respects, Yoakam looks back to even earlier yesterdays: the vintage hillbilly of "The Heartaches Are Free," for example, for which Morse swaps out his pedals for a lap steel, but most importantly, the singing and songwriting appearance of Yoakam lodestar Buck Owens. Surprisingly enough, this is the first time that Owens has shown up on a Yoakam album since 1988, and he does so in force, contributing "I Was There" and "The Sad Side of Town" (a co-write with Yoakam that fairly reeks of a Bakersfield barroom) and providing lead, harmony, and duet vocals on those and the Tex-Mex "Alright, I'm Wrong."
Altogether, this is another remarkable effort that does nothing to diminish Yoakam's standing as one of the most important country artists of the last quarter-century.