In Tommy Lee Jones' harrowing film The Three Burials of Melquides Estrada, Dwight Yoakam once again turns in an unflattering portrait of a man who is rotten to the core (and knows it). We've seen Yoakam in this sinister mode before—most memorably as the lead home-invader in Panic Room and as evil incarnate Doyle Hargraves in Sling Blade—but it never ceases to entrance and amaze.
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Part of the shock is that his best roles stand in such stark opposition to the real-life Yoakam: a big-hearted country-music lifer who cut his teeth touring with Los Lobos and the Violent Femmes, spun Cheap Trick and Queen songs into twangy gold, and managed to coax Buck Owens out of retirement for a duet and co-headlining tour. Yoakam has scorched the country charts and amassed cross-genre credibility by doing things his own way, releasing a barrage of spookily consistent albums over the past 20 years—even the AM-radio tribute Under the Covers and the barebones double-album dwightyoakamacoustic.net are great.
Now firmly established as a country auteur, Yoakam is equally adept at classically informed ballads, rock-flecked barroom anthems, jangly cow pop, and tear-stained tales of regret and redemption. Each of those elements commingle nicely in his most popular hits, "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," "Little Sister," "Guitars, Cadillacs," "Honky Tonk Man" and "I Sang Dixie."
His latest outing, Blame the Vain, is more bitter and jagged than anything we've come to expect from him musically: "I'll blame it all on someone else/Till there's nobody left/Then I'll just blame me," he croaks out on the organ-rough title track. Could this be a new chapter for Yoakam? Maybe his disturbing choice of film roles is finally catching up to his songwriting.
Dwight Yoakam at House of Blues, 1530 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-2583; www.hob.com. Sat., 8 p.m. $56-$58. All ages.