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updated: 9/19/2012 6:24 AM

Yoakam shows how it's done on '3 Pears'

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  • Dwight Yoakam's "3 Pears"

    Dwight Yoakam's "3 Pears"

Associated Press

Dwight Yoakam, "3 Pears" (Warner Bros.)

Dwight Yoakam's new album "3 Pears" reunites the veteran Los Angeles musician-actor with Warner Bros. Records, his label home from 1986 to 2001. But the songs continue to look forward and to challenge Nashville's version of contemporary country music.

Yoakam has focused more on film than music in the last dozen years. But the inventiveness he displayed on mid-career albums such as "This Time" informs his new work as the singer-songwriter blends innovation and traditionalism on "3 Pears" in ways no other country artist does.

Not every experiment works. The psychedelic whimsy of "Waterfall" floats off into free verse and loses its anchor. But the muscular kick Yoakam gives a honky-tonk classic by Joe and Rose Lee Maphis -- which he renames "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, Loud Music" here -- rocks as hard as anything by the young bucks currently ruling country radio's airwaves.

Rock innovator Beck co-produces two tracks: the echo-laden 1960s throwback "A Heart Like Mine," and the soulful, stripped-bare acoustic tune "Missing Heart." Those songs fit perfectly alongside the rest of this wide-ranging album, all produced alone by Yoakam, who remains one of the most consistently interesting country music visionaries of his time.

Check this out: The first time "Long Way to Go" surfaces on Yoakam's album, it's as a mid-tempo tune that mixes '60s guitars with a modern-rhythm arrangement. Later, he presents it as a moody piano ballad. Both versions are stunningly good, setting two different stages for Yoakam's expressive tenor as he instills a lonesome yearning into lyrics about the ongoing search to fulfill one's dreams and goals.

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