Country’s hippest cowboy offers of-the-moment insights in a fresh new set

Most of the time, Dwight Yoakam lives in the moment. The 55-year-old Kentucky native prefers not to have any long-term goals aside from continuing to find joy in his work. It’s a strategy that’s served him well in his near three decade career as a singer-songwriter-actor.

“When I started doing more film work, I began not waiting until I had time to sit down and write songs,” he says. “I’d capture pieces or ideas and come back to the song in a week or a month.” Or perhaps 19 years, as in “Take Hold of My Hand,” the opening track on his new album 3 Pears.

“The song was from almost a previous lifetime,” Yoakam says. “I went to Bobby’s (Kid Rock) place to write and pulled that out. We never got to anything else because we camped on that immediately.” The rest of 3 Pears was written in a relatively short three-year period, while recording the album took 10 months. In a surprising move, Yoakam brought Beck onboard to co-produce two songs.

“I mentioned I had this idea for kind of a Creedence Clearwater Revival bounce groove,” he says. “By the time I got to his home studio, he had cut a drum beat. So I started singing, and before I knew it, he had me plugged in.” The resulting song, “A Heart Like Mine,” ranks among some of his best of the past decade.

More than 25 years after his major-label debut, Yoakam is back on Warner Bros., and just like on that first album—recorded in what he wryly calls “the halcyon days of cowpunk”—he’s again covered “Ring of Fire.” “I had recorded it in a rockabilly kind of style,” he explains. “After John and June passed away, I began performing it in a 4/4 rock ’n’ roll feel. Then I shifted to more of a [former T. Rex frontman] Marc Bolan treatment. We also shifted the harmony parts to do a bit of mountain echo back to June Carter’s roots.” The change in styles can be attributed to Yoakam’s musical evolution. Still grounded in country’s Bakersfield Sound, he allows himself to be guided by spontaneity and emotion: “I began by explaining who I was by musically saying where I came from, Appalachia. Then I began moving into articulating what I had heard. Now I’m expressing what I feel in the moment.”

–Juli Thanki

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