When Dwight Yoakam burst onto the charts with his first album in 1986, he was the young honky tonk firebrand who set out to remind Nashville of its noble past and celebrate the accomplishments of Bakersfield heroes such as Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. The irony is that nearly 20 years later, Yoakam is in pretty much the same boat as the artists he championed in the 1980s -- he's a respected veteran of the country scene who still has a loyal audience but lost the interest of the major labels and isn't drawing the attention he used to get. But if any of this troubles him, you'd never guess to listen to 2005's Blame the Vain, which is his sharpest and liveliest set in some time. With Yoakam producing himself for a change without the help of longtime studio partner Pete Anderson, Blame the Vain also finds him fronting a new band anchored by guitarist Keith Gattis, and the new blood seems to have done wonders for Yoakam -- while he wasn't exactly in a slump, Blame the Vain boasts a sharper and more energetic approach than his last several efforts, with "Just Passin' Time," "Three Good Reasons," and the title cut revealing that Yoakam is still a honky tonk man supreme. Elsewhere, the whacked-out intro to "She'll Remember" and the ad-libbed final rant on "Intentional Heartache" show Yoakam's firmly in touch with his inner goofball weirdo, the songwriting is both literate and down-home in the manner of his best work, and he sings up a storm from front to back. Two decades into his career, Dwight Yoakam is still the man who is too country for Nashville, and on Blame the Vain he shows he's got too much strength and soul to let anyone hold him down -- this is inspired stuff from a rebel who still has plenty to offer.
Blame the Vain Review
by Mark Deming