One described as "the man who was too country for Nashville," Dwight Yoakam has always been an artist who is passionate about the themes and variations of classic country, but he's never treated his beloved Bakersfield sound as a museum piece. In Yoakam's world, country is not like a vintage auto that's too precious to drive, but a dinged-up but still powerful hot rod that has plenty of miles left in it, and he's happy to prove it by taking it out on the highway and opening the throttle. Judging from his 2016 album, Swimmin' Pools, Movie Stars…, Yoakam views bluegrass much the same way; this is his first album in the revved-up down-home style, and while the acoustic backing gives Yoakam's music a different spin, the energy, passion, and unpretentious smarts of these performances are absolutely in his wheelhouse. For Swimmin' Pools, Movie Stars…, Yoakam has opted to re-record a handful of tunes from his songbook (with the exception of a re-working of Prince's "Purple Rain"), and while that might seem a bit lazy, by the time he's done, these songs have taken on a different music personality, and if these versions may be quieter than the originals, Yoakam is putting his all into this music, and the band is expert and muscular at the same time. The band Yoakam assembled for Swimmin' Pools is first class, including Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Bryan Sutton on guitar, Adam Steffey on mandolin, and Scott Vestal on banjo. The pickers respect the craft of Yoakam's tunes while giving them a high-lonesome tone that's powerful and satisfying, and the harmonies mesh beautifully with Yoakam's confident lead vocals. And while the notion of Yoakam doing a bluegrass cover of "Purple Rain" might sound like a high concept hipster joke, he wrings loneliness and loss from that tune with a delivery that's moving without becoming histrionic. A belated companion piece to the underrated 2000 effort dwightyoakamacoustic.net, Swimmin' Pools, Movie Stars... is a stylistic detour for Dwight Yoakam, but its execution sums up many of his greatest strengths as an artist, and it's a strong, powerful piece of work that's passionate and plenty of fun at the same time.
Swimmin' Pools, Movie Stars... Review
by Mark Deming