On Yoakam's debut indie release, the Kentucky-born, Nashville refugee's sound is as refreshing and nearly as revelatory as on his first album, 15 years ago. Yoakam combines his freewheeling influences -- California country/rock predecessors the Eagles and Byrds -- with a more traditional Bakersfield twang. The spirited, yet surprisingly commercial, country that results flaunts its roots while expanding on them.
The title track displays a Hank Williams sway, using banjo and dobro to add heartbroken bluegrass twang, then throwing in a muted trumpet to infuse big-band sass. "If Teardrops Were Diamonds" meshes his high-lonesome approach and duet partner Willie Nelson's Texas country & western inflection.
With dozens of top charting singles, Yoakam's defection to independence seems an admission that, as he nudges 50, his brand of genre-pushing, roots-respecting country is better served without corporate suits fishing for a hit. Not content to exploit his hip-swiveling, torn jean image, he also refuses to compromise his musical credibility.
Hopefully, this gamble will pay off, since Population: Me is one of Yoakam's best -- and at barely one half-hour, one of his shortest -- albums. If the results continue to be this impressive, look for a second box set in 14 years.
Dwight Yoakam plays Cowboys Dance Hall Fri., Sept. 26. $20-$40.