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Dwight Yoakam, "Come On Christmas"A case could be made for Dwight Yoakam as the savior of country music. When he stormed into Nashville in 1986, there was virtually no one left in town making real western music. While rock music experienced a roots revival (c.f. Los Lobos), country music drifted so far towards the middle-of-the-road that ho-hum artists like Reba McEntire and Randy Travis were branded as 'traditionalists' - like that was a bad thing! In contrast, 'progressive' was a label reserved for artists endeavoring to 'crossover' by sounding less country and more pop! So, Yoakam's aggressively backwards approach - hot pickin', trashy imagery, and deeply nasal voice loaded with vitriol - sounded damn near revolutionary.

Sadly, he held a revolution and nobody came. Just a few years later, Garth Brooks and the 'hat acts' crossed over for good, and country music sold it's soul to rock and roll. The most popular artists ended up sounding more like the Eagles on quaaludes than Buck Owens on speed. As for Dwight, he fared pretty well, surviving commercially while expanding his musical horizons without betraying his core values - guitars, Cadillacs, and hillbilly music.

Yoakam recorded a Christmas single way back in 1987 - a smokin' cover of Leiber & Stoller's "Santa Claus Is Back In Town" (a highlight of Elvis Presley's first Christmas album) included the next year on a spiffy Warner Brothers collection entitled A Christmas Tradition Vol. 2 (1988). But, Dwight waited ten years to wax his first full-length holiday record, and when he finally did he deftly avoided the pitfalls of Nashville's usual yawn-fest approach to the season. To the contrary, Come On Christmas (1997) is an adventurous near-classic that swaggers as brazenly as Yoakam's very best work.

Come On Christmas is a testament to all the wonderful qualities Dwight Yoakam brings to the game: his musicianship, his inventiveness, his humor, and his insatiable thirst for the next cool sound. From the nearly ambient title track to a cajun romp through "Silver Bells" to a friendly stab at cocktail jazz on "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," Yoakam and trusty producer Pete Anderson continually confound our expectations and delight our senses. Of course, Dwight leads his crack band through some slammin' twang-core, too - including a cover of Chuck Berry's "Run Rudolph Run" and a sizzling reprise of "Santa Claus Is Back In Town" - but it's the unexpected pleasures that make Come on Christmas the most memorable country Christmas album in years.

Yoakam saves the most fun for the end with "Santa Can't Stay," an original song relating a trailer park tale of domestic antipathy, equal parts melodrama and situation comedy. It's a great story, and though the song suffers from a cluttered arrangement and overly slick production (a rare misstep for Anderson), it shines through all the same. It's easy to imagine Yoakam as the hapless father in his song, coming back for more, sure that if he tries hard enough, Nashville might take him back. Easy, but incorrect, because Dwight went his own way a while back, content to make the best music he could, letting the chips fall where they may. We're better off for it. [top of page]

Albums Albums

SongsSongs

  • Come On Christmas
  • Here Comes Santa Claus
  • I'll Be Home For Christmas
  • Run Run Rudolph
  • Silver Bells
  • Santa Can't Stay
  • Santa Claus Is Back In Town (1987)

Further ListeningFurther Listening

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