The music of Dwight Yoakam has always existed more or less as an alternative to what country music has ultimately become. A strict adherent to the legacy of the Bakersfield sound for over 30 years, Yoakam has succeeded in carrying the torch of tradition for a style in which “country” is now more a marketing tag than an indigenous art form into the modern era.

This bucking of trends (pun intended) has allowed him to continue furthering the style popularized by Owens, Haggard and a handful of others. Whereas the rest of country music began dabbling with pop and classic rock in the early ‘90s in the wake of Garth Brooks’ stadium-rock-country success, Yoakam continued to follow his anomalous evolutionary branch. While moving farther from the mainstream in which he had initially found favor, he continued to garner critical praise and staunch supporters in the form of country traditionalists and the burgeoning alt-country scene with a string of solid albums throughout the ‘90s and early ‘00s.

By adhering to the traditional notion of country music delivered through a contemporary lens, his approach then affords an alternate view of what could have been had country music not gone in such a highly stylized and ultimately formulaic direction. Rather than using predictably vapid country lyrical touchstones and plug-and-play arrangements, Yoakam opts for material steeped in the country tradition in its most traditional sense. Forgoing pickup trucks, red solo cups and uncomfortable levels of patriotic jingoism, the songs on Second Hand Heart deal with more universally relatable concepts, all delivered with a backbeat you can dance to.

From love and loss to heartache and misery, themes prevalent throughout the history of country music, Yoakam updates each for a contemporary audience. By making the people’s music about the deeper emotions of people rather than a superficial lifestyle aesthetic, Yoakam forgoes NashVegas fads to create material of lasting quality. Trading primarily in heartache by the numbers, the songs on his latest, Second Hand Heart play out as character studies in miniature, exposing the very human faults that affect each of us to varying degrees.

With titles like “Dreams of Clay,” “Second Hand Heart,” “In Another World” and “Off Your Mind,” the material itself is fairly bleak. But when coupled with up-tempo arrangements, hook-y melodies and just the right amount of vocal twang, they manage to transcend melancholy and carry within them a touch of resigned optimism and hope that perhaps the next time won’t end quite as poorly.

Though fairly pessimistic in outlook, the title track, delivered from the perspective of a man and woman who’ve both loved and lost and no longer see the point in relationships due to the nagging notion they will ultimately fall apart, offers lyrical nuances often lacking in contemporary country music. “When I believed in love I dreamed in color, too,” Yoakam sings, putting a spin on well-worn territory in a slightly different light.

It’s this subtle shifting of expectations and the norms in which Yoakam excels. “In Another World,” while built around a charging Bakersfield beat, features nods to the equally California sounds of the Beach Boys in the soaring harmonies featured prominently during the chorus. Elsewhere, “Man of Constant Sorrow” is given a turbo-charged reading that, like nearly everything else here, enlivens somber material with a rocking beat that betrays the sentiments being expressed.

As has been his modus operandi for nearly four decades, Dwight Yoakam delivers a solid collection of songs that stray from the contemporary notion of what it means to be a country musician, mining the music’s history to find relevance in the present. It’s a boldly idiosyncratic move that, were there any justice in the music industry, would see Second Hand Heart atop the country music charts. Until then, he’ll simply have to continue preaching to the converted.

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