Dwight Yoakam's music emanates from a sonic no man's land, located halfway between country and rock.
He is not the only artist who has taken up residence there -- Raul Malo, Chris Isaak, k.d. lang and Lyle Lovett are a few of his like-minded contemporaries -- but Yoakam has been so consistent for so long, that a fantastic album like his latest, 3 Pears, is bound to be taken for granted.
The singer-songwriter's first collection of nearly all original material since 2005's Blame the Vain, 3 Pears easily veers from honky-tonk gems (the gleefully rowdy Dim Lights, Thick Smoke) to nakedly emotional ballads (Trying; A Heart Like Mine) to startling covers (the Bee Gees' chestnut To Love Somebody), but it never feels forced.
Part of Yoakam's charm is his ability to dig into the marrow of a song -- even one as saccharine as To Love Somebody -- and present it without so much as a wry smirk. In that way, Yoakam fits snugly into the tradition of the timeless country vocalists who separate themselves from the pack by being, above all else, peerless interpreters of their own and others' material.
The record, produced by Yoakam and Lenny Waronker, boasts an intriguing footnote: hipster icon Beck co-produced a pair of tracks (A Heart Like Mine and Missing Heart). The notion of a Yoakam/Beck collaboration stretched over the course of an album is beyond tantalizing. Beck already dabbled in similar territory, with his 2002 masterpiece Sea Change, and the pair could probably come up with something truly stunning.
But as it is, Yoakam has a winner with 3 Pears, a dispatch from a genre-blurred wonderland, and as satisfying an album as has come down the pike thus far in 2012.