Dwight Yoakam's first three albums stand as a vinyl Mount Rushmore of modern country: airtight, rock hard and pure as grain alcohol. In the 30 years since he exploded out of the LA punk scene with Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. his style has meandered, sometimes taking weird trips down blind alleys. You can't fault a guy for following his instincts when they're usually right. Even his failures (3 Pears' "Waterfall," with its acid-trippy lyrics that tread the same psychedelic path of Sturgill Simpson's "Turtles All the Way Down") are more interesting than the pop that passes for country these days.
Second Hand Heart, which Yoakam produced, indulges his fascination with late-'60s rural pop, a la Glen Campbell and CCR. Lots of tambourines, handclaps, ensemble harmonies and poppy instrumentation give these songs a throwback feel (dig the bongos on "Dreams of Clay"), although layers of crisp guitars keep things modern.
Seven songs in, Dwight unloads the first of three haymakers in a row. He tears through "Man of Constant Sorrow" with a ferocity that had me asking, "O brother, where you been?" This hotfoot honky tonk leaves no doubt that this Kentucky boy is at the peak of his powers. Your move, Nashville.