Dwight Yoakam is, in many respects, a victim of his own early success. His 1986 album Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. remains as accomplished a debut as any in country music history, and it has cast a lengthy shadow over the remainder of his career. In reality, Yoakam has been consistently extraordinary — and 1990’s If There Was a Way ensured that, unlike some of his contemporaries who first rose to prominence in the ’80s, Yoakam’s commercial and critical hot streaks would survive for many more years. Branching out from the heavy Bakersfield influence of his first three albums, Yoakam and producer Pete Anderson incorporate stronger rock and even vintage R&B elements into what had become his trademark aesthetic. “It Only Hurts When I Cry” and “Takes a Lot to Rock You” both predict the emergence of alt-country just a few years later, while “Since I Started Drinkin’ Again” is simply one of the coolest sounding Bluegrass tracks ever committed to record. That’s perhaps the best overall description of If There Was a Way: It’s Yoakam’s coolest album.
If There Was a Way may not always receive the same degree of acclaim as Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. or Gone, but it remains one of Dwight Yoakam’s finest, an essential country album.
“Turn It on, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose” is a prime example of how country is at its best when setting songs of heartbreak to upbeat arrangements, and Yoakam repeats that trick to even greater effect on “It Only Hurts When I Cry.” “Let’s Work Together” is one of the most soulful performances in Yoakam’s catalogue: The song’s R&B flourishes fit with the album’s adventurous approach to genre, and Yoakam would tap that R&B vein even more deeply on 1995’s Gone. For all of the varied influences on display over the course of If There Was a Way, though, the album’s finest moment comes on a stone country ballad. “You’re the One” showcases Yoakam’s gifts as a songwriter, impressive for the economy of language, for how complete a narrative he’s able to construct from so few phrases. Yoakam’s vocal performance is measured and perfectly controlled; he’s not often singled out for his vocal prowess, but he sells the ballad with a real sense of conviction. Though it’s sequenced late in the album, “You’re the One” serves as its overall centerpiece, in terms of both quality and theme. If There Was a Way may not always receive the same degree of acclaim as Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. or Gone, but it remains one of Dwight Yoakam’s finest, an essential country album.
Part of Kicking the Canon – The Album Canon.