If There Was a Way from 1990 is the first full display of Dwight Yoakam's doppelgänger on record. From the mid-tempo honky tonk of "The Distance Between You and Me" and the classic Bakersfield balladry of "The Heart That You Own" to the balls-out live 21st century rockabilly "It Takes a Lot to Rock You Baby," Yoakam shows his fragmented musical personality that somehow remains inside the framework of his own brand of country. Fans of the old heroes such as Ernest Tubb, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Buck Owens, Hank Thompson, Loretta Lynn, and so on dig Yoakam because he knows how to write and sing a good old country song. The kids and pop audiences love him because he seems to speak to them as much with his swagger as his electricity -- guitarist Pete Anderson is like Don Rich, only from the rock side of the country music fence. "Nothing's Changed Here," written by Yoakam and master songwriter Kostas, is a nod to Tubb in that it refers to the master's "Walkin' the Floor Over You" in "Nothing's Changed Here," a barroom stroller with a gorgeous fiddle solo by Don Reed and a splendid use of reverb by Anderson. "Since I Started Drinkin' Again" is a bluegrass sh*tkicker, but it is one hell of a self-destructive broken-heart song that features some awesome fiddlework by Scott Joss and mandolin and backing vocals by Tim O'Brien. The bluesy, doo-woppy, Doc Pomus-inspired rock balladry of the title track is another move toward the margins for Yoakam -- especially with the shimmering B-3 work by Skip Edwards. "It Only Hurts Me When I Cry," Yoakam's co-write with Roger Miller, who sings backing vocals on the track, is another rocker à la early Conway Twitty. Ultimately the duet with Patty Loveless on Kostas and Kathy Louvin's "Send a Message to My Heart" is a wrought and deeply moving love song. Loveless is the best of her generation. Not even Martina McBride with all her emotion and range can match the soul in the grain of her voice, nor does anyone possess as pure a country voice with the exception of Emmylou Harris perhaps. The bravest moment on the record is also its most fun. The closer is a truly hillbilly deluxe version of Wilbert Harrison's anthem "Let's Work Together." Anderson tears this mother up, raw and wooly, and Yoakam proves himself as fine a R&B singer as he is a country crooner. Here again the rock side of country, the soul side of rock, and the country side of soul are all wrapped here in Yokam's voice backed by a band who have a complete understanding of the tune. Highly recommended.
If There Was a Way Review
by Thom Jurek