Picks and Pans Review: Hillbilly Deluxe

Dwight Yoakam

Ordinarily the pop-music business is the last place anyone should look to have his faith in human nature restored, but then it was Willie Nelson who once sang, “Miracles occur in the strangest of places.” The success of these two young country singers is certainly a cause for celebration. In their debut albums last year, Travis, 28, and Yoakam, 30, each displayed a clean, honest style that relied on sticking to the country essentials and executing them expertly. These two follow-ups maintain that pattern and are at least as satisfying as the 1986 albums. About the only criticism to be made of Travis is that he sounds a little too much like Merle Haggard, which is akin to saying a basketball player plays too much like Larry Bird. Travis doesn’t seem to be worried about comparisons. The Travis-Marvin Coe tune Good Intentions, for instance, is reminiscent of Haggard’s Mama Tried, and the arrangement of Tonight We’re Gonna Tear Down the Walls suggests the Dixieland digressions Haggard is fond of. Travis has such a warm, buttery sound in any case that just hearing it is a soothing experience. He and producer Kyle Lehning also have a nice ear for material. They came up with the Don Schlitz/Paul Overstreet hit Forever and Ever, Amen and Kent Robbins and Susan Longacre’s The Truth Is Lyin’ Next to You, which belongs on the list of most clever country titles—and teaches a lesson on word usage. Yoakam too has an uncluttered, natural style, with a little rockabilly sob in his voice that harks back to Hank Williams the Elder (and harks sideways to Ricky Skaggs). Yoakam also has his own steady band, the Babylonian Cowboys, who are an act all by themselves, with fiddler Brantley Kearns and guitarist Pete Anderson riding on Jeff Dona-van’s drums and J.D. Foster’s bass. Yoakam also has a quietly eloquent way with a lyric, as he demonstrates in a tune about an admiration from afar, Throughout All Time: “And the sunshine on that morning/ Broke across your golden hair/ How I wished to hold you tightly, Lord/ But I was shy and did not dare.” Yoakam does an old Elvis hit, Little Sister, and Lefty Frizzell and Blackie Crawford’s Always Late With Your Kisses among a first-class group of his own songs on Hillbilly Deluxe. Taken together, these two albums are enough to make you tip your hat to Nashville—though for perspective’s sake let’s remember that it also gave us Kids of the Baby Boom and Would Jesus Wear a Rolex? (Both Warner Bros.)

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