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On his first original album in seven years, 3 Pears, country pioneer Dwight Yoakam remains stylistically steadfast. A blend of country, Americana, and pop sounds, 3 Pears delivers what fans have come to expect from Yoakam over the past twenty-plus years. In true Yoakam style, the album strikes a balance between heartfelt ballads and cowboy boot stompin’ jams, all the while maintaining a wily smile.
Take “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke,” a new rocker off of 3 Pears, reminiscent of Yoakam’s 1986 breakthrough single, “Guitars, Cadillacs.” “Dim lights, thick smoke and loud loud music, you’ll never make a wife to a home lovin’ man, a home and children mean nothing to you,” howls Yoakam over an irresistible country riff. It’s the same kind of honky-tonk attitude that made him the first-ever country musician featured on MTV back in the eighties and the kind of attitude that contemporary stars such as Blake Shelton, Brad Paisley, and Jason Aldean have been trying to emulate for years. Tracks like “Dim Lights” and “A Heart Like Mine” are undeniable fun which showcase Yoakam at his loud, honky-tonk best.
On the complete opposite side of the spectrum are tracks like the quiet ballad, “It’s Never Alright” – a haunting song which could either be Yoakam’s description of life away from his lover or a reflection on his own personal shortcomings.
“They say it gets better, well I guess that it might, but even when it’s better, it’s never alright,” a somber Yoakam croons over the sounds of a piano. Moments like these, in which Yoakam is softer and more vulnerable, are amongst the finest on the album, for they do away with the amplifiers and gasoline and give insight into the man under the famous cowboy hat. Granted, Yoakam is no stranger to exposing his gentler side, as he released an all acoustic album in 2000; however, new ballads like “It’s Never Alright,” “Missing Heart,” and “Trying” are still welcomed additions to his catalog.
While the ballads of 3 Pears cover a good deal of emotional ground, Yoakam’s sense of humor isn’t lost in the mix. The album title itself refers to a humorous image that Yoakam saw of John Lennon wearing three pairs of sunglasses all at once. Inspired by Lennon’s classic whimsy, Yoakam warped the phrase “three pairs” a bit and penned the title track, which finds the country star getting as quirky as he gets with vocals resembling Springsteen circa Working on a Dream.
Similar to “3 Pears” in originality, “Waterfall” is a tropical lullaby that flows along like its namesake with the help of whimsical imagery, like “a big giraffe,” “a single peanut butter kiss,” and “a big moonlight.” Yoakam is a natural at painting simple, absurd pictures into his listeners’ heads; so much so, it is enough to make one question why, amongst his various endeavors (holiday music, film acting, frozen foods), he is yet to release a children’s album.
With his twelfth original studio album and first with his resigned contract at Warner Bros. Nashville, Yoakam beckons at aspects of his musical past, all the while looking ahead to the future. On 3 Pears, Yoakam collaborated with young popular musicians such as Kid Rock, who co-wrote the album’s lively opener (“Take Hold of My Hand”) and Beck, who co-produced two significant tracks (“A Heart Like Mine” & “Missing Heart”).
Through continuing to work with younger musicians like Kid Rock and Beck, it is possible that Yoakam can create music that appeals both to his old fans as well as younger country fans – a surely daunting task for any musician. Yet, as two decades, two Grammys, and 25 million albums worldwide can attest, a determined Dwight Yoakam may be reloaded and up for the challenge.