Although four singles were issued from Dwight Yoakam’s 1988 LP Buenas Noches From a Lonely Room, “What I Don’t Know” – one of the collection’s standout tracks – was not among them. But when Yoakam re-imagined some of his favorite cuts as bluegrass tunes for the Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars… album he released in September, the menacing number that expounds on the theme “ignorance is bliss” found an even more perfect fit.
Yoakam was one of the many performers who took the Ryman Auditorium stage during this fall’s Americana Music Association Honors and Awards ceremony, part of the organization’s annual AmericanaFest. The peaks and valleys of Yoakam’s lead vocals are just one of the thrilling elements of the Kentucky native’s vintage Flatt & Scruggs-inspired spin on the tune. Running a close second are the tight harmonies and sterling musicianship of the bluegrass vets joining him onstage: bassist Barry Bales and Dobro player Jerry Douglas from Alison Krauss’s Union Station, banjo picker Scott Vestal, fiddler Stuart Duncan and guitarists Bryan Sutton and Jon Randall Stewart.
The idea for a bluegrass project, Yoakam admits, stretches back as far as he can remember. “I was born in Pikeville, Kentucky. You don’t get any more steeped in mountain music than you do in that Southeastern corner of Kentucky,” the Grammy winner tells Rolling Stone Country. “It borders Virginia, where the Carter Family came from, where the Stanley Brothers came from. And just over to the west is where Bill Monroe came from. So I grew up hearing it. Singing that way was never something I had to be taught. There have been several moments in my career, even with the first album you hear it on ‘Miner’s Prayer,’ there are elements of it. ‘Bury Me’ is basically a bluegrass song in hiding.”
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This clip and other highlights from AmericanaFest’s Honors and Awards ceremony will be featured in a special episode of Austin City Limits, airing this weekend on PBS.