Picks & Sleepers
Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, Fri., Dec. 6, 2002
Dwight YoakamReprise Please Baby: The Warner Bros. Years
(Reprise/Rhino) Of all the artists associated with the "New Traditionalist" country movement of the mid-to-late Eighties, Dwight Yoakam stands alone. Dubbed early on as the "James Dean of country," the Kentucky-bred, Ohio-raised singer-songwriter has always been a rebel, achieving success on his own terms. Reprise Please Baby is a 4-CD box set of some of his best music, twangy or otherwise, recorded in the past 16 years. It stands as a testament to a talent unmatched in many ways. Yoakam was always willing to take chances, which becomes obvious over the course of the first three discs. You're able to track Yoakam's progress from the hillbilly singer whose first hit was a Johnny Horton cover, "Honky Tonk Man," to his later years, when he was able to mold pop tunes like Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" to his own purpose. Along with producer, guitarist, and right-hand man Pete Anderson, he revitalized the Bakersfield Sound, then took it to places no one had ever imagined. He had hits (17 Top 10 Billboard country chart singles), but his albums represent an unmatched string of accomplished statements about where he was at a certain moment in time. Yoakam's fans are sure to be excited that the fourth disc here contains 21 tracks of previously unissued material. The first 10 comprise a demo session from 1981 that offers an interesting glimpse of what Yoakam sounded like before he signed to Reprise. The rest are a pair of duets with Kelly Willis and live tracks from a variety of dates that give a taste of the power and joy he provides in concert. Reprise Please Baby is really just a marvelous first chapter in a career that shows no signs of slowing down, and as always, it'll be interesting to see what Yoakam comes up with next.