Yoakam Stretches--a Bit Too Much? : 1/2 DWIGHT YOAKAM “If There Was a Way” <i> Reprise </i>

With country-music standards once again on the rise, it’s no longer enough just to have the correct sound and attitude--qualities Dwight Yoakam possesses in spades. Not when newercomers like Clint Black have added “outlook” to the list of prerequisites for today’s neo-traditionalist.

With his first album of new material in two years, Yoakam picks up the gauntlet Black threw down with his sparkler of a debut last year and is equal to the challenge--as long as he’s writing and singing from the heart. Exhibit A: the knockout opening track, “The Distance Between You and Me,” which has “classic” stamped all over it.

But in trying to land himself among the great honky-tonkers of history, Yoakam succumbs elsewhere to the “reach and stretch” syndrome: reaching for a clever metaphor, then stretching it beyond the breaking point--"The Heart That You Own” is a prime example. “Since I Started Drinking Again” is buoyed by an airy bluegrass lilt, but it reveals neither the sullen desperation of great drinking songs of the past nor a shred of the enlightenment about self-destruction that Black captured in his “Killin’ Time.”