Under the Covers
RECORDINGS COMPRISED OF nothing but covers are by nature pretty disposable: Content to walk the thin line between homage and forgery, most artists merely try to "live up" to the original versions of the tunes, not surpass them. But Dwight Yoakam has personal traits that suggest something more than that; for better and for worse, he seems to fit like a brand new hat. A stylish dilettante with a cocky heart and the faux reverence for tradition of a self-absorbed baby boomer, Yoakam is the kind of cowboy gent who doesn't mind colorizing his nostalgia. Consequently, Under the Covers mingles a few improbable triumphs and spectacular failures with the more predictably affecting tributes.
Having always straddled country and rock, Yoakam links wizened bluegrass stalwart Ralph Stanley with the Clash on "Train In Vain," revamping the hit from London Calling with some accordion garnish and a sing-song trot that's tailor-made for Stanley's banjo. Yoakam segues from that rural-grace note by turning the Kinks' "Tired of Waiting" into a cheesy swing-jazz theme song for a '50s rat-pack flick. It's abominable. By contrast, Yoakam's duet with Sheryl Crow on "Baby Don't Go" is merely a bad call. In the hands of two out-of-tune losers like Sonny and Cher, "Baby" was a poignantly pathetic love song, and although Yoakam and Crow tinker with the lyrics and the perspective, they merely come off like a vapidly beautiful couple.
Yoakam has better luck with sly wrinkles. He knows that the modest irony of Wynn Stewart's '50s nugget, "Playboy," plays even better in '97, and he knows enough not to mess with the vocal template of Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman" and the Beatles' "Things We Said Today"; he retrofits the former with a gentle pulse and cues up the latter with snarky electric guitar. "The Last Time" by the Stones is way too predictable a choice, but Them's first hit, "Here Comes the Night," is a dusky gem that wisely soft-pedals Van Morrison's vocal anguish. Yoakam wraps up the record with Jimmy Rodgers's "T For Texas" from 1927, his supple voice resisting the yodels in favor of a balladry that suits most any time, and any tune.
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