Over his 20-year career Dwight Yoakam has borrowed from rock, blues, bluegrass, rockabilly and even punk to keep his country songs interesting.
But the tune “I’ll Pretend” from his new album “Blame the Vain” seems contorted even for him.
“It’s me interpreting the Beatles interpreting country music,” the 48-year-old singer-actor said from his Los Angeles home.
The CD, which comes out Tuesday, marks a couple of firsts for him. He produced it himself, and he recorded it without longtime guitarist/producer Pete Anderson after the two split on less-than-amicable terms.
Yoakam won’t discuss his falling out with Anderson except to say, “We made a lot of great records together, and I’m very proud of the work we did.”
As for self-producing, he said, “The largest and most critical difference would be that I almost entirely let the music lead me.”
And it led him to some unusual places.
On “Intentional Heartache,” a rocker with loud, jangly guitars, he breaks into a redneck rant at Connie, his soon-to-be ex-wife who’s trashing his boots with a can of spray paint and dancing on his Dale Earnhardt Jr. poster. He slips in a playful tempo change on “Watch Out,” then feigns a quirky British accent on “She’ll Remember.”
“There’s a simplistic, reckless joy to this album,” Yoakam said. “There’s probably more of me on this album than on previous albums.”
Since his 1986 debut, Yoakam has sold 23 million albums with a sound rooted in the twangy Bakersfield, Calif., country of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. He even teamed with Owens on a remake of Owens’ hit “Streets of Bakersfield.”
Along with Lyle Lovett, Steve Earle and Nanci Griffith, Yoakam was part of a wave of alternative artists who cracked the charts in the 1980s. But unlike his contemporaries, he became a consistent hitmaker well into the 1990s with a style that was traditional yet edgy. His hits include “Guitars, Cadillacs,” “Little Sister,” “Thousand Miles from Nowhere” and “Fast as You.”
“I’m grateful to still be able to make a living playing music. It’s something I did for free until I was fortunate enough to have a record deal,” he said.
Yoakam also has a long-standing interest in acting. In 1994 he made his film debut with Nicholas Cage and Dennis Hopper in “Red Rock West,” and he’s continued with roles in “Sling Blade,” “The Newton Boys” and “Panic Room,” among others.
This year he’s in “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” with Tommy Lee Jones, and has a cameo in “The Wedding Crashers” with Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughan.
While he enjoys making movies, Yoakam says it’s a creative outlet that depends on many other people — unlike music.
“I don’t need involvement by anyone else to do my music. I can pick up my guitar and sing alone in a room.”