Saturday, August 28, 1999

Yoakam show features all his country hybrids

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Dwight Yoakam has spent the past 14 years breaking the rules in country music. Thursday night, he even managed to break Riverbend's iron-clad curfew, extending his encore 15 minutes past 11 p.m.

        Maybe he got so caught up in being so close to home (He was born in Kentucky and raised in Columbus, Ohio.) that he forgot the time.

        Returning alone for his encore, he sang about his Tristate roots in powerful solo versions of “Bury Me Along the Big Sandy,” “South of Cincinnati” and “Readin' Writin' Route 23.”

        The crowd barely filled two-thirds of the 6,000-seat pavilion, but its diversity testified to Mr. Yoakam's unusual appeal.

        Several generations of hard-core country fans mingled with suburban boomers and young alternative types.

        Coming out of the same California-roots rock scene that produced Los Lobos and the Blasters, Mr. Yoakam was alternative-country before alternative-country was cool. His 110-minute show touched on the many country hybrids of his long career.

        While his music has changed, his look has stayed the same — low-slung Stetson, white tank T-shirt, short black jacket and the longest, skinniest legs in country music encased in faded, skintight jeans.

        He was backed by his superb six-man band, featuring his longtime producer/lead guitarist, Pete Anderson.

        They earned their money in a show that included Buck Owens' “Streets of Bakersfield,” a Bluegrass version of the Elvis/Junior Parker classic “Mystery Train,” the Conway Twitty-styled ballad “Yet to Succeed,” a blues/rock take on Bill Monroe's “Rocky Road Blues,” and the honky tonk-in-overdrive of “Fast As You” and “Little Sister.”

        And of course, there was his current hit, Queen's “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” which went from a Gap commercial to the country charts.

        That seems pretty weird, but he's also the guy who turned the Clash's “Train in Vain” into bluegrass a few years back.

        When Mr. Yoakam came along in the mid-'80s, country music was dominated by the likes of Kenny Rogers and Alabama.

        Nowadays, as country pop rules again with Garth and Shania, fans of real country need the raw, Kentucky-inflected voice and eclectic country vision of Mr. Yoakam more than ever.

        If the headliner turned Riverbend into a 21st century honky-tonk, the opening act used it as a giant front porch. Randy Scruggs, son of banjo great Earl Scruggs, started the night with a laid-back 35 minutes.

        A masterful picker but so-so singer, he and singer-guitarist Jon Randall mixed guitar showpieces a la Doc Watson (“Soldier's Joy,” “Black Mountain Rag”) with folk/country songs such as “City of New Orleans.”


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