When Dwight Yoakam first came on the scene, with his hip retro-attitude, concha-studded jeans, and music that often grazed the edge of rock & roll, it was hard to tell whether the California cowboy was for real. The verdict was clear by his third album, Buenas Noches From a Lonely Room, whose key cycle of songs is a classic murder tale that echoes the pride, heartbreak, betrayal, and vengeance of the age-old hillbilly experience. Having proved his loyalty to his rural heritage, Yoakam earned the right to turn up the rock side of his music as never before. On If There Was a Way, he welcomes all of his musical forebears to the party, with raucous, exhilarating results.
This new album further explores Yoakam's catalog of heartache and disappointment, only in a lighter vein no one gets killed. ''Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose'' has a Johnny Cash like tick-tack guitar fueling its rockabilly rhythm; the pedal-pumping piano stylings of ''I Don't Need It Done,'' a kind of paean to Jerry Lee Lewis, make a listener want to shake off inhibitions. Throughout If There Was a Way, Yoakam remembers that country music is (as he once put it) the ''white parent'' of rock & roll, and that each style deserves the other's respect. ''Takes A Lot to Rock You,'' Yoakam laments here. Maybe so, but the Hillbilly Cat has learned the way. For real. A