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In the distant future, when academics are deconstructing the folkways of the late 20th century, a phenomenon identified as "country music" will be the focus of attention among many historians. What will stand out more than any other characteristic will be the simple profundity of the words in the songs. A few certain names will be considered the masters of the genre -- Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and, quite probably, Dwight Yoakam. On, Yoakam's songs -- stripped of all studio trickery and with no accompaniment other than his own acoustic guitar -- shine like diamonds, pure and honest, and aimed straight at the heart and soul of the listener.

Born out of the enthusiastic response of the fans to a short solo set of tunes during last year's "Greatest Hits" tour, includes 25 of Yoakam's best-known songs, all originals with the exception of the Pomus/Shuman classic "Little Sister." Yes, it's all material that has been released before, some songs several times. Over the last 15 years Yoakam has released seven studio albums, two greatest hits collections, a Christmas record, a live album and two albums of cover songs (one import). Regardless of the redundancy, these are still great songs, and for the diehard fan hearing them in the most basic form is just as much of a treat as a CD of all new material (the next one arrives in September).

While most of the material doesn't drift too far from original arrangements, some tracks are more powerful than ever, including the beautifully morbid "Buenas Noches From a Lonely Room (She Wore Red Dresses)." The pure heartache of loneliness makes "Two Doors Down" a tour de force, and the lyrical power of "Things Change" is one of the most awe-inspiring moments in modern country music. Dwight Yoakam is one of the few contemporary country artists who connects with each body of work, and there is no reason to doubt that he'll continue to do so into the future.

-- James Kelly

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