A cascading bass line that evokes the work of Motown’s James Jamerson, all fat, swollen and narcotically melodic, opens 3 Pears, Dwight Yoakam’s return to a major label. Coyly credited to co-writer Robert Ritchie—better known as Kid Rock—“Take Hold of My Hand” sets a bar that is long on raw desire, overt pain and a kind of macho bravado that’s been the post-California cow-punk avatar’s highest ground.
This overt immersion in musk, want and sexual salvation both sought and offered reaches beyond simple carnal release. Sweeping the listener up in the throb and wailing ripple of Yoakam’s tenor, the tension is deeper than the chase; stock in trade for the man who brought danger and desire to a format once populated by middle-aged lotharios with gold chains and back-combed chest hair.
Yoakam always understood the most radical thing was making hard country music so brutally taut that it was more rock ‘n’ roll than rock ‘n’ roll itself. Emerging from California’s punk/roots scene, championed by the Blasters and sharing stages with X, he kept it true, while mining the tempest of a formidable rejectionist movement.
3 Pears follows the same map. Perhaps teaming with Beck for the Monkees-evoking melt/early Stones-inspired hybrid lets the tumble and jangle of “Heart Like Mine” throw open the possibilities. Feeling like an homage to a young boy and his transistor radio, this and the steel-drenched, spaciously acoustic “Missing Heart,” Beck’s other contribution, merge unlikely influences for a fresh whole.
On “Rock It All Away,” a song of doubt being eradicated by quiet action, Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane” morphs into a triumphant jangle-guitar and some Beach Boys a capella harmonies for something fresh and somehow liberating. “Nothing But Love” takes the classic Creedence Clearwater Revival descending riffing, drops it onto an explosive train beat and emerges with a Laurel Canyon bit of bulked-up country.
Executive produced by legendary Warner Bros. exec Lenny Waronker, Yoakam even adds extremes to his sonics. Room sounds have an intense presence, giving saloon torchiness an inside-out intensity that makes Yoakam’s Sinatra-style vocal on “Never Alright” a powerful article of haunted ache.
Yes, he can still turbo-tonk like no other, hyper-driving Joe Maphis’ cautionary invective “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music)” with the slamming punk fury of his earliest hits. But even the once revolutionary steel blaze and the hammering guitar solo is only the tip of an album destined to open wounds and excavate the music’s potential.