“Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars…” by Dwight Yoakam

Dwight Yoakam
Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars… 
Sugar Hill Records
4 stars (out of 5) 

By Aaron Keith Harris 

Dwight Yoakam was born in Pike County, Kentucky, then, like so many before him, Route 23 brought him to Columbus, Ohio, where he grew up. He then bypassed Nashville on his way to Bakersfield and Los Angeles to start one of the most impressive careers any country singer songwriter has ever had. Of course, Los Angeles is where the fictional Clampetts went, their sitcom exploits introduced each week with “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” the chart-topping theme song containing Earl Scruggs’ banjo—and the lyric that serves as this disc’s title.

Unlike many country stars who seemed to rediscover their bluegrass roots in the wake of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? phenomenon, Dwight Yoakam has always been eager to play bluegrass, most notably with Ralph Stanley.

Yoakam’s voice, which twangs like Jimmy Martin’s and croons like Lester Flatt’s, is right at home in a Bakersfield honky-tonk or a backwoods beer joint, with just enough suavity to pull off a stunningly beautiful cover of Prince’s “Purple Rain” without sounding cornball.

The other 11 songs are Yoakam’s own, and their quality reminds us that he should be regarded as one of country music’s elite post-Haggard singer-songwriters—“Please, Please Baby,” “I Wouldn’t Put it Past Me,” “These Arms,” and, of course, “Home for Sale” are as good as it gets. The band of Bryan Sutton (guitar and banjo), Stuart Duncan (fiddle and banjo), Scott Vestal (banjo), Barry Bales (bass), and Adam Steffey (mandolin) is better than it needs to be, and they stick to framing Yoakam’s voice  while delivering arrangements that aren’t too different from their electric originals—with the exception of “Guitars, Cadillacs,” done here as a slowed-down strut, but—just like its singer—still cool as it was more than 30 years ago.