Over a decorated 25-year career, country music stalwart Dwight Yoakam has never toed the Nashville line, instead demonstrating an adventurous appetite for power pop, rockabilly, soul and even punk rock. With a sound far closer to the Flying Burrito Brothers than, say, Alabama, Yoakam has sometimes lagged behind his contemporaries in terms of sheer commercial metrics, but his creative wanderlust has earned him a large and diverse constituency of loyal fans. It is unlikely that many of them will find themselves disappointed by “3 Pears,” his strong new collection, which is his first full-length album since 2007 and one of his finest overall.
On the infectious opener, “Take Hold Of My Hand,” Yoakam sounds like a country-fried Roy Orbison, wrapping his rich tenor around a romantic plea that feels closer to vintage Sun Records than anything on new country radio. A fantastic rip through the standard “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke” brings the anarchic feel of similar stylistic shape-shifters NRBQ and wouldn’t feel out of place on an Old 97’s record. Yoakam is equally adroit in tear-in-your-beer weeper mode — the moving, soul-inflected break-up ballad “It’s Never Alright” features the kind of subtly clever chorus that Merle Haggard has made a legendary career out of: “They say it gets better/Well I guess that it might/But even if it’s better/It’s never alright.” It’s brilliant, but something of an outlier on this largely rambunctious and celebratory album. Approaching 60, Yoakam has both deepened with his vintage and somehow managed to lose nothing off his formidable fastball.