Cinema-struck Dwight Yoakam’s evidently been too busy trying to jump-start his movie career to cut us a new studio album. No matter; Dwight Live is still the most satisfying country record of the half year. Two decades ago, when country talent was plentiful, Dwight would’ve been just one of a half-dozen top-notch male singers. Today, he stands pretty much alone: the class of country. It’s not due to charm (he has very little), nor an especially rich imagination (he does basically the same thing every time out). What Doo-wight’s primacy boils down to is (1) ownership of a great instrument (the boy can flat-out sing) and (2) an irreducible core of integrity (no matter how mannered his persona, when Yoakam opens his mouth, he’s baring his soul).
Like most interesting artists, Yoakam is contradiction-ridden. If he comes across as surly and aloof, he is also generous: On the tour that Dwight Live documents, his shows often stretched past standard length. They were beautifully paced, too, ending (as does the album) with a killer version of ”Suspicious Minds.” And he’s got enough chutzpah to appropriate one of the King’s signature tunes as his own. Is Yoakam villain or hero? Imposter or real thing? Listen to the crowd’s verdict as he yells good night. A