Too old-school for alt-country hipsters, too off-kilter for staunch traditionalists, Dwight Yoakam has always been a man in search of a niche. His lastest, Blame the Vain,
will piss off both crowds, but it's one of Yoakam's sprightliest in years. By hiring a new band and taking the production reins from longtime collaborator Pete Anderson, Yoakam catches fire -- no small feat for an artist who's been putting out records for 20 years. Rowdy barn burners like "Intentional Heartache" and the Mexicali-flavored "I'll Pretend" are Yoakam at his honky-tonk best, and a handful of low-key numbers show off his increasingly rich vocal ability. But just when you think that the Kentucky native has made a straightforward country album, he flips Nashville the bird, introducing "She'll Remember" with a faux-British accent and a wall of whooshing synthesizers. Those gleeful seconds when Yoakam embraces his inner weirdo are the best moments on Vain
-- tones of the skinny cowboy sounding completely at home.