Sunday, September 23, 2012

One For Two: Dwight Yoakam's 3 Pears & The Time Jumpers

The first sound you notice on the new Dwight Yoakam album is a peculiar “yelp” at the end of his phrases. Fortunately, this annoying affectation is only heard on three of the songs on his new album, 3 Pears (Warners, 2012), released last week. The songs “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke” and “Nothing But Love” are loaded with a pseudo Buddy Holly twitch, plus an affectation that distinguished the Texas rock ‘n roller. Even though Yoakam’s songs thrive on his ability to shape his lyrics with humour this record lacks any of the cool turns-of-phrase that have highlighted his work over the years. (See: Gone or Blame The Vain) The one exception would be the title track, “3 Pears,” as he plays off the synonym “Three pairs of glasses/Three pairs of shades/Three pairs of other things/All there in spades.” It’s not much, but when Yoakam puts the words into the context of a song, the sarcasm lingers.

That said, the strongest songs on the album come at the hands of co-producer, Beck Hansen (aka Beck). “A Heart Like Mine” and “Missing Heart”explore a more interesting arrangement of Yoakam’s distinctive baritone, but on this album his voice is beginning to sound a little tired. Nevertheless, Yoakam puts in a good performance on a album closing version of “Long Way To Go” featuring only piano accompaniment. It’s a deeper emotional journey for a singer who, for the past 20 years, wears his heart on his proverbial sleeve. So while it’s nice to hear from Yoakam after such a long stretch (this is his first album of new songs in 7 years), I was disappointed by the unevenness of the record and the poor mixes, especially the more rock-oriented tracks. The drums, which crash and burn on most of the cuts, are either too loud or too heavy-handed. To me, Yoakam’s talent lies in his ability to straddle the Bakersfield sounds of Buck Owens with contemporary Nashville honky tonk, with a small dash of wit attached. (I highly recommend any of the Pete Anderson produced sessions from the 1990s) So while this record has put Dwight Yoakam back on the proverbial country music map, 3 Pears bears little fruit.

Texas Swing, on the other hand, is alive and well on the second release by the 11-piece country outfit known as the The Time Jumpers (Rounder, 2012). It’s a happy mix of up-tempo Western songs and heartfelt ballads all brightly played by some of the finest musicians out of Nashville, very few people know. Vince Gill is the biggest name in this band, whose lead tracks complement the whole record. But the band’s also got a killer rhythm section and three seasoned fiddlers, Joe Spivey, Kenny Sears and Larry Franklin, whose contribution to the music is sweet and sentimental.

What makes the record successful is the band’s ability to defer to one another in the tradition of the Grand Ole Opry. In other words, shared lead vocals. Dawn Sears, who’s been on the country music scene for years, gets the nod on four outstanding tracks. Her versatility is on display on the ballad, “Faint of Heart” written by Vince Gill and Al Anderson. The band then trades solos, in particular the savory accordion of Jeff Taylor. Sears also gets to sing the classic “Texas On A Saturday Night” and gives us a fresh sound on “Yodel Blues” written by Johnny Mercer and Robert Dolan from the musical, Texas, Lil’ Darlin’.

The album closes with spirited version of “Someone Had To Teach You”, by Harlan Howard and Bill Hervey that was a hit for George Strait, among others. The Time Jumpers could easily be dismissed in their pursuit of the music they love on this album. But that would be a critical mistake. The group started as a kind-of pickup band for Vince Gill in 1998 that simply played music for pure pleasure without any commercial agenda. [Hence the release of only 2 albums in 14 years.]

This sophomore effort is a fine one: well played and beautifully produced. And it swings.

John Corcelli is a musician and broadcaster. He's currently working on a radio documentary, with Kevin Courrier, for CBC Radio's Inside the Music called The Other Me: The Avant-Garde Music of Paul McCartney.

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