Dwight Yoakam's debut (actually an expanded version of his independent EP) brought the high-kicking spirit of Buck Owens's Bakersfield country back to the radio and rescued it from urban cowboy blandness. Yoakam's lonesome yodel is immediately memorable, and his band kicks like a liquored-up mule, thanks to Brantley Kearns's whining fiddle and Pete Anderson's astounding Telecaster chops. Along with Steve Earle's Guitar Town, Yoakam's Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc. is a cornerstone of what became the '90s alternative country movement. Yoakam remains a vital recording artist, and this is the first and best place to get familiar with him. Produced by Pete Anderson, Yoakam's 1986 Reprise debut is a sinewy mix of traditional honky-tonk, red-hot Bakersfield twang, and rock 'n' roll attitude; and it spawned a trio of hits, including "It Won't Hurt," the title track, and a cover of Johnny Horton's "Honky Tonk Man." A second disc captures Dwight and the Babylonian Cowboys delivering an incendiary and previously unreleased 1986 performance recorded at the Roxy Theater on L.A.'s Sunset Strip.
Though most of these recordings have previously been anthologized, this two-disc set puts Dwight Yoakam's emergence and progression from the roots-punk circuit to the country mainstream in context. It begins with the 1981 demos that earned him a recording contract, showing that his artistry as a retro-hillbilly honky-tonker was already in full bloom, with both his singing and his songwriting conjuring an era that otherwise seemed long gone. Yet it was his pairing with guitarist/producer Pete Anderson for his debut album, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.
--here remastered and reissued in its entirety--that gave Yoakam's music that hard-twanging edge that found him sharing fans on the L.A. circuit with the Blasters, Los Lobos, and X. For Yoakam completists, the real treat here is disc two, a 1986 performance in the wake of that album at Hollywood's Roxy (not exactly your typical honky-tonk). With nine of the twelve tracks previously unreleased, Yoakam acknowledges a debt to Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and the Bakersfield sound on "Guitars, Cadillacs"; pays tribute to the influence of John Fogerty and Emmylou Harris, apparently both in the audience, before "Mystery Train"; and then barely stops for breath before blazing into Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire." The urgency of the live-wire performance makes it easy to see why the rock crowd embraced him first, but he ultimately compromised little as he conquered the country airwaves as well. --Don McLeese