Picks and Pans Review: This Time
Too many of today's younger male country artists fail to suggest anything beyond technical competence and stock sentiments. That's why Yoakam is special. In his singing—and in the spare, driving arrangements that he and producer Pete Anderson have honed over five albums—nothing stands in the way of naked emotion. Yearning, misery, anger, humor—whatever the mood, Yoakam delivers an unsentimental slice of his soul, not a shrink-wrapped product off a shelf.
Yoakam's voice, that silvery, oddly hollow instrument, gets only suppler. On This Time he stretches vocally as never before. He chuckles evilly ("Fast as You"), moans and mumbles, croons like Sinatra ("King of Fools"), imitates mush-mouthed Buck Owens ("This Time") and swoops sky ward in Sam Cooke glissandi ("Ain't That Lonely Yet"). There's nothing this boy can't sing.
If This Time has a fault, it's that the vocal restlessness seems to suggest that Yoakam wants to punch his way into something new but can't quite figure out what. The itch is evident too in his stepped-up stylistic roving: the strings on "Ain't That Lonely Yet" and "Try Not to Look So Pretty" (in the latter a lone country fiddle solos over the string section—nice touch). Then there's the churning minor-chord rock, a la Del Shannon, of "Thousand Miles from Nowhere" and "Ain't That Lonely Yet"; the Hammond organ and the Chuck Berrymeets-Peter Gunn rhythm of "Fast as You"; and "Wild Ride," the best Rolling Stones-style country song since "Dead Flowers."
To Yoakam's credit, he never retreats into fake homespunisms. When he finds it in his complex self to hook up unequivocally with the past, he docs it beautifully. On the last song, "Lonesome Road," singing "just a face in the crowd/Poor old worthless me, only friend I ever made" over a plangent lap-steel guitar, he is the true carrier of the flame Jimmie Rodgers lighted and passed to Hank Williams. (Reprise)