When looking back at the history of country music, I consider Dwight Yoakam one of the biggest influencers of the genre. When Yoakam started his career, the urban cowboy movement was in full swing in Nashville. Yoakam’s honky-tonk, “hillbilly” music was considered not marketable and no label would give him a look. So he headed west on his own dime and made the music he wanted to make. His rock-influenced brand of country helped make not only honky-tonk country popular in the late 80s, but helped bring in many rock fans into the genre who had previously shunned country music. Yoakam, along with Randy Travis and Keith Whitley, helped usher in the neo-traditional country era, which was way too short. You can thank Garth Brooks for this. Yoakam has had a pretty successful career, despite the fact that I feel he doesn’t get near enough the credit he deserves. I was pretty happy when he came back to music in 2012 after not releasing new music for five years while focusing on his acting career. His return album 3 Pears was damn good, so he had a tall task falling it up with his newly released album Second Hand Heart.
Does it meet up to the standards of 3 Pears? No. It surpasses it! Second Hand Heart is one of the best country albums I’ve heard this year. From beginning to end this album is great. Second Hand Heart begins with “In Another World,” a decidedly traditional country song with Yoakam’s signature Bakersfield sound. It’s about imagining a currently failed relationship going smooth in another world, a coping mechanism to deal with heartbreak. It’s an interesting theme. Combined with the infectious steel guitar and the alluring rhythm, this makes it easy to want to listen to this song over and over. A tambourine and a steel guitar kick off “She.” It’s a song about a woman who won’t show her true side and who she really is. She would rather give off an illusion to throw people off. It creates this sense of mystery and aura around her, which just makes you want to get to know her more. Yoakam does a great job creating this image of this mystery girl in the listeners’ heads.
Yoakam slows it down with “Dreams of Clay,” a heartbreak ballad. The man realizes in the song that all of the dreams they had together were just made of clay and that he now has to move on from her. He’s well aware of heartbreak and the pain from it, but that doesn’t mean it’s easier to take. Yoakam’s vocals really impress me on this particular song because he sells the emotions of the story being told so well. The album’s title track is a rocking tune about wanting to give up on love. “Second Hand Heart” paints the picture of a person who is experiencing some serious pessimism towards love after having it in the past and now not having it. The opening and closing line of the song puts it best: “When I trusted love I dreamed in color too.” It really sets the tone of this song perfectly.
The throwback, rockabilly tune “Off Your Mind” tells the story of a man who had a woman dump him without saying goodbye. It’s left him feeling rightly irritable towards her and basically she’s been dead to him ever since she walked out the door. He says he’s happy because he’s “alone right where you left me off your mind.” It perfectly sums up the feelings of a person who got dumped in this manner. This is definitely one of my favorite tracks on the album. “Believe” has the opposite reaction of “Off Your Mind,” as it’s about a man convincing a woman to continue to believe in their relationship. He reminds her of their love and to let go of the bad memories, as he tries to keep her. Backed by great instrumentation, this song is catchy in every way. I also applaud Yoakam’s artistic skill in pulling off in back-to-back songs both sides of the coin when it comes to love. It reminds you of why Yoakam is so respected and revered in music.
The most fun song on the album is next, which is “Man of Constant Sorrow.” It’s a Bakersfield country song that is impossible to not want to at least tap your feet along with. You can easily dance along with it too. The guitar play is simply phenomenal. I can say the same of Yoakam’s vocals. I just want to listen to this song over and over. Yoakam keeps it going with “Liar,” another song that just has amazing and fun instrumentation. You can tell Yoakam had a lot of fun recording this song. It’s a “tell it like it is” song about being with a woman who lies and tells the man how to feel it, but he’s calling her out for it. The harmonica solo in the middle song made me go from really liking this song to loving it because I’m a sucker for slick harmonica play. Yoakam brings with these songs a factor that has been missing from mainstream country music: a dance factor. And he uses country instrumentation to bring this dance factor to his music. So anyone who says traditional country music can’t be fun is wrong once again.
“The Big Time” is just another song that flat-out rocks. This is pure Dwight Yoakam right here, folks. It’s a fun anthem that you just want to hit play on again and again. It combines punk rock and country to produce a kickass song. Just listen to it. This fantastic album concludes with “V’s Of Birds,” which is another great song. It’s a feel good song that compares finding happiness to v’s of birds flying south for the winter, finding warmth and sunshine (kudos to writer Anthony Crawford for this perfect comparison). Opening with a combination of a piano and organ gives the song an uplifting feeling. It’s the kind of song you can listen to and instantly feel happy after hearing it. I would also be remiss to not point out the stellar mandolin solo too. One more thing to point out: With the exception of two songs (“V’s of Birds” and “Man of Constant Sorrow”), Yoakam wrote every song himself on this album. Needless to say Yoakam is a music genius.
There’s no other way to say it: Second Hand Heart is awesome. You aren’t going to hear many country albums as good as this one for the rest of the year. It has touching ballads, rocking honky-tonk and some of the best instrumentation I’ve heard on an album in recent memory. Yoakam’s voice is as brilliant as ever. I think I speak for Yoakam fans everywhere when I say this: don’t ever leave music again. While I enjoyed Yoakam as Pastor Phil in Four Christmases, I would much rather listen to him produce amazing albums like this one. I give Second Hand Heart my highest recommendation, as it’s definitely a top candidate for Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year. Just like he did back in the 80s, Yoakam brings us traditional country in a world that badly needs it.