Let's just assume you don't Tivo Country Music Television's "Twelve Pack Countdown." So I'll tell you: it's a weekly listing of the top 12 videos of the week, as picked by CMT viewers. It's essentially "TRL" for Nascar fans, people whom provincial hipsters and "blue-staters" automatically assume have as bad of taste in music as they do political candidates.
While some of the weekly offerings are the sort of overly stereotypical Nashville pap that you'd expect, there's an occasional curveball that makes the whole "Twelve" a lot more interesting than anything on MTV. This week, for example, Toby Keith made the obligatory appearance, but so did Shooter Jennings. And the title track of Dwight Yoakam's Blame the Vain-which kicks the tar out of anything Linkin Park's done-hit No. 1 this summer.
Yoakam scores the occasional country radio and video hit, but he's remained outside of the Nashville pop-country institution since the beginning of his career. That was when he shirked country's heartland and moved to Bakersfield to study at the feet of Buck Owens, the master of honky tonk and heartache. He played most of his early shows a few hours south in L.A., where his riff-and-growl style landed him gigs with the finest local punk bands and cowpunk contemporaries like The Blasters and The Knitters.
After four years of constant touring and the occasional film role (including the greatest drunk, redneck asshole ever in Sling Blade), Yoakam returned to L.A. in 2002. Once again, he found inspiration in the city's gritty rock clubs and bands like Sweethearts of the Rodeo and East Bound and Down. He viewed the country-rock scene they've created as similar to the one he came from and the one he imagines spawned the likes of Gram Parsons and The Byrds.
While not as obvious in some of the slicker tracks on Blame the Vain, this second exposure to the underground adds some grit to the new album, and also may have influenced some recent career decisions. Though it's his 18th outing, it is the first Yoakam decided to self-produce, and he keeps things nice and stark through much of it. He also made the leap to indie New West Records, bridging the gap between labelmates like The Drive-by Truckers and Kris Kristofferson. Steve Earle-who owes a thing or two to the pioneering neo-traditionalist Yoakum-also just moved to the same label.
Any remaining doubt about the discerning tastes of monster-truck aficionados should be removed by the recommendation of Johnny Cash, who, in his last televised interview, told Larry King that Yoakam was his favorite country singer.
He's also one of the last of the greats.
Dwight Yoakam plays at Viejas on Sept. 14. Doors open at 8 p.m. $60. 619-220-8497.