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
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.