In spite of Dwight Yoakam's popularity and impressive ability to cross musical boundaries, no biography has ever before been published. Award-winning music critic McLeese (New York Times Reader: Arts & Culture) fills that gap with this jaunty, affectionate, honest, and compelling book. Drawing on interviews with Yoakam and his friends and fellow musicians, McLeese guides us through Yoakam's early years in Kentucky and Ohio in the 1970s, where his formative musical influences were country music and the Monkees, to his years in California, where he perfected his musical persona and came roaring out of the L.A. roots-punk circuit and into the national spotlight. McLeese takes us album by album from Yoakam's firecracker debut, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. (1986), to his 2007 tribute to his mentor Buck Owens, Dwight Sings Buck. Yoakam emerges from these pages as a hard-working, honest artist, deeply committed to compositions that both preserve the heritage of country music and push its boundaries to carry the music, the tradition, and his listeners into new territories. VERDICT This lovingly crafted and compulsively readable biography is essential for fans of Yoakam and lovers of good music writing.—Henry L. Carrigan Jr., Evanston, IL
Music critic McLeese (Journalism/Univ. of Iowa; The New York Times Reader: Arts & Culture, 2010, etc.) examines the career of iconoclastic country star Dwight Yoakam. The author informs us early on that this book is not intended to be a biography, but rather "an extended piece of music and culture criticism." Of course, McLeese provides some biographical detail, mainly as an entry into how Yoakam's upbringing and experiences have informed his work. Of particular interest to the author, clearly a fan of his subject, is the musician's childhood fascination with television and especially the Monkees, influences that led Yoakam to Los Angeles, where his career began. Though his earliest support came, oddly, from that city's punk-music scene, it's clear that Yoakam had his sights set on Nashville stardom from the beginning. The book often reads as a refutation of the charge that Yoakam, because he paid attention to his image and put on a good show, and later pursued an acting career, is somehow less "authentic" an artist because of it. Though McLeese does a fine job countering that idea, his focus on it over 200-plus pages begins to feel defensive. The narrative benefits from the author's extensive access to Yoakam and his collaborators, most notably longtime guitarist and producer Pete Anderson, as it proceeds album by album through his career. Context on the country-music industry and how it has changed during Yoakam's time, particularly B.G. and A.G. (before and after the rise of Garth Brooks in the early 1990s), adds depth to what might otherwise read as an extended magazine article. Perfect for Yoakam fans looking for a book-length critical defense of his work.