Like Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, and Dolly Parton, Dwight Yoakam is one of country's lifetime achievers whose long slide into quirky irrelevance has been stymied by a high-minded indie label, a support system initially invented by and for quirkier punk-rockers. And although the 48-year-old returns to home turf with this New West debut -- call it neo-neo-traditionalism -- the comeback that it most closely resembles also comes from punk, Green Day's American Idiot.
That Who-style concept album made a critical splash because the trio never stepped out of punk's tight little bounds to execute its grand vision. Similarly, as Yoakam explains in a press release, Blame the Vain "tells the story of the demise of a love relationship," but "the subtext is about my love for music." So Yoakam tailors the sounds of Haggard, the Beatles, Elvis, George Jones, Buck Owens, Gram Parsons, and more to his sharp new bar band. The role of longtime collaborator Pete Anderson is filled by lively young guitarist Keith Gattis and also by Yoakam himself, who produced and wrote everything. And as did Green Day, Yoakam spent so much time honing this sound and sensibility that the album's script feels secondary and as awkwardly formalistic as the term "neo-neo-traditionalism" itself.