Album Review – Dwight Yoakam’s ‘Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars…’

dwight-yoakam-swimmin-pools-movie-stars

It’s pretty simple: If Dwight Yoakam releases new music, you should pay attention. At least that’s how I feel about the iconic Bakersfield-sound country artist. When discussing the titans and legends of country music you’ll always (rightly) hear about Dolly Parton, Hank Williams, George Jones, Willie Nelson and George Strait. But you never hear Yoakam’s name thrown in with them when in my opinion he 100% belongs amongst the best in the history of country music. Thanks to him, Randy Travis and Keith Whitley, they brought style and tradition back to a genre in the 80s that sorely lacked the earmarks that had made the genre special and memorable. Yoakam’s incorporation of elements of rock into his brand of country music quickly made him a ton of fans and still has a pretty loyal following to this day. He really did introduce a lot of rock fans who didn’t bother with country before to the genre, something that often gets overlooked.

The last we heard from Yoakam was his 2015 album Second Hand Heart, released via Warner. It was personally one of my favorites from last year and found it to be a solid country album from start to finish. And unlike a lot of older country artists Yoakam has accepted that country radio won’t play him anymore. He certainly won’t ever be one to chase trends either. In fact he’s done the opposite with his newest project. Yoakam announced earlier this year he was going to do a bluegrass album that would consist of some of his best music, only in bluegrass form (plus a surprise I’ll get to in a second). That album, Swimmin’ Pools, Movies Stars…, is now here (released via Sugar Hill Records). If you’re a fan of Yoakam or bluegrass, you’ll certainly have a lot of fun listening to it.

While it’s jarring at first to hear iconic songs like “Two Doors Down” and “Guitars, Cadillacs” in bluegrass form, after a few listens they’re really fun and it’s cool to hear them in a different way that’s still great. They don’t top the original versions of course, but it’s interesting as a fan to hear Yoakam be able to craft such untouchably good songs into something different and still make the music sound great. What also impressed me about these bluegrass covers is Yoakam’s swagger and attitude really doesn’t disappear. When I think of bluegrass I think of a humble tone, yet Yoakam makes it sound cool because I think it’s impossible for Yoakam to not give his music a feeling of coolness. Of course while I’m impressed by the album as a whole, the track that undoubtedly stands out for me and I think a lot of listeners is Yoakam’s cover of the legendary Prince’s “Purple Rain.” The one-of-a-kind artist’s death earlier in 2016 undoubtedly sent shockwaves throughout the entire music world, as Prince’s music influenced and touched artists and fans of all genres. It was no different for Yoakam, who felt inspired to honor the artist’s late memory by covering one of his best songs he told People:

“I always loved the song. The first time I heard it, it stopped me in my car. It struck me as interesting and as unique an expression of love musically as anything ever in pop music,” Yoakam says. “I thought it spoke volumes about the honest willingness of the person who wrote it to bare his heart to the world through his music. Prince, I never really knew you, but I’m sure going to miss you.”

I recommend reading the whole interview he gave on recording it and deciding to put it on the album if you haven’t yet. One thing I love about Yoakam’s cover is that he keeps the rawness and passion of the song intact. That’s what makes the song standout so much for me, as Prince just puts all of his heart and soul into the song. Yoakam’s interpretation doesn’t match it because nobody can match it, but I’m glad I still felt those elements when listening to Yoakam’s version. It’s good the instrumentation was kept downbeat too, as this song is supposed to have a melancholy undertone to it. So many artists covered Prince after his death, but not many did him justice like Yoakam does here.

I always find it fun and exciting to watch legendary artists take on new and different musical side projects and Dwight Yoakam’s Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars… is no different. It’s yet another album for fans of Yoakam to enjoy, as well as a pleasure for anyone who enjoys bluegrass. Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars is one of those albums you can just throw on at anytime and enjoy.

Grade: 8/10

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10 thoughts on “Album Review – Dwight Yoakam’s ‘Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars…’

  1. Bought this one on a whim and let it spin all weekend in my truck. Ive kinda been aggravated with all the negative or mediocre reviews for this one for i thought it was very well done. Maybe this one is not his strongest output of material or even original, but the bluegrass renditions are great, musicianship top notch, and i believe he had nothing but the fans and his heritage in mind with this album. I loved he got to go back to his Kentucky roots. Ill admit that some of the songs work better than others in bluegrass form, but i admire the fact that he didnt choose all his best known songs, way more interesting a certainly reaps with “coolness.” Great Review!

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    • I would probably chalk up the negative reviews to people not liking bluegrass in general. It’s an acquired sound for a lot of people and many simply don’t like it or want to understand it. I doubt it’s because of Yoakam because he’s always been critically acclaimed.

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  2. Although none of these songs were originally written as bluegrass songs, I do think most of them are well-suited to bluegrass. I would have preferred new songs specifically written for this project (with a few covers), but I feel like many of the songs that were chosen work very well with bluegrass harmonies. I appreciate that it wasn’t simply a greatest hits album done bluegrass style.

    To me, some of the best songs are near the end, with “Please Please Baby,” “Gone,” “Two Doors Down,” and “Purple Rain” being my favourites (“Gone” is one of my absolute favourite Dwight Yoakam songs). I think this version of “Purple Rain” is excellent and, as mentioned, the story behind it is cool too. One thing that I really enjoy about Dwight Yoakam is that, although he does record a fair number of cover songs, he always has a cool, different take on them (eg. “Locomotion” from “Dwight’s Used Records” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” from “Last Chance for a Thousand Years,” among many others).

    The only song that didn’t really resonate with me was “Listen.” This could be that it isn’t well-suited to bluegrass or that it simply it would rank fairly low on my list of favourite Dwight Yoakam songs (not that it is bad, just not one of my favourites).

    This will likely end up on my Top 5 list this year and I would rank it 9/10.

    Finally, I’m also really looking forward to seeing him on this tour as I haven’t seen him live in over 10 years. I’m curious as to whether he will be performing at least part of the concert bluegrass-style.

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    • I saw Yoakam last year for the first time ever and I was amazed how great he sounds after all these years. Most artists start to show their years on the road live at his age, but he still sounds excellent. His band is probably three times younger, but they’re the ones who have to keep up.

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      • Cool! Good to hear. I haven’t been to many concerts over the last few years, but ibve been making up for it this year (Corb Lund, Ian Tyson, Sam Outlaw, Sturgill Simpson and Dwight Yoakam coming up).

        I’ve seen Dwight a couple times when I was younger and both shows were excellent, as I’m sure this new one will be as well.

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  3. I knew that Dwight Yoakam can do bluegrass; he did a song called “Borrowed Love” on the Earl Scruggs album “Earl Scruggs and Friends”. Definitely worth a listen.

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