Dwight Yoakam's Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. began as an EP issued on the California Oak label. When Reprise signed him, they added four more tracks to the mix to round it out as an album. Yoakam, a Kentuckian, brought country music back into its own medium by reviving the classic Bakersfield sound with the help of his producer and lead guitarist, former Detroiter Pete Anderson. As a result, the "new traditionalist" movement was born, but Yoakam was always a cut or three above the rest, as this album displays in spades. Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. kicks off with a smoking cover of Johnny Horton's "Honky Tonk Man," a song now so closely associated with Yoakam, the original has all but been forgotten. But this is only the beginning. Yoakam's own songs such as "Bury Me," a duet with Maria McKee, and "South of Cincinnati" reference both the pastoral and dark sides of his native state. "South of Cincinnati" is a paean to those who left Kentucky for Ohio in search of jobs, and "Bury Me" celebrates the land itself. In addition, the title track, with Anderson's Don Rich-influenced guitar style, walks the Buck Owens line until the line extends to Yoakam. With fiddles and backing vocals, Yoakam's street poetry is both poignant and profound, built into a barroom anthem. In addition to this there is the gorgeous "Miner's Prayer," an acoustic number powered by dobro (courtesy of David Mansfield), flat-picked guitar, and Yoakam's singing of his grandfather and generations like him who lived and died in the mines of Kentucky. Here Bill Monroe meets Ralph Stanley meets Bob Dylan. In the grain of Yoakam's voice there isn't one hint of irony, only empathy and raw emotion. Yoakam also does a more than acceptable version of June Carter's "Ring of Fire," the "Cherokee" of country music -- meaning that if you can play it and pull it off, you're taken seriously by the veterans. The album closes with the Harlan Howard classic "Heartaches by the Number." Because of Ed Black's steel playing, Brantley Kearns' fiddle, and Anderson's guitar, the accompaniment is stronger and far edgier than the Ray Price version, but from Yoakam's throat comes an entirely different story than Price's. In Price's case the song was a plea; in Yoakam's it's a statement of fact. An astonishing debut, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. changed the face of country music single-handedly and remains one hell of a party record.
[In 2006, Rhino Records released an expanded and remastered two-disc edition of Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. Disc one features the complete original album along with ten demos Yoakam recorded in 1981. The demos show that Yoakam already had a killer voice, enviable songwriting chops, and some idea of how to bring them across in the studio, but despite the presence of some terrific musicians -- including David Mansfield on mandolin and fiddle, Jay Dee Maness on pedal steel, Glen D. Hardin on piano, and Jerry McGee on lead guitar -- the results are too tidy and polished, and lack the fire and honky tonk swagger Pete Anderson and his crew would bring to the sessions for the later album. Disc two preserves a cracking live show Yoakam and his band played at the Roxy in Los Angeles in March 1986. While Yoakam overplays his fake hillbilly bit just a little in the between-song patter (though not when he name-checks Bill Monroe), he sounds great and the band is on fire, playing Bakersfield barrelhouse music with the insouciance of punk rock and the reverence of the true believers they were. Given how strong Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. was to begin with, it's almost gilding the lily to add this much bonus material, but the demos and live tracks add historical perspective to this package and are good to great listening as well, and this remains an album that's as fun as it was influential.] ~ Thom Jurek & Mark Deming