After writing and directing a feature film (South of Heaven, West of Hell) and releasing collections of greatest hits, live material, unplugged performances, and covers, Dwight Yoakam finally wrote an album of new material last year. Tomorrow’s Sounds Today (Reprise) breaks no new ground, but it’s as good as anything he’s done, and his postmodern take on hardscrabble Bakersfield honky-tonk, abetted by fiddler Scott Joss and steel guitarist Gary Morse, is still a bracing antidote to Nashville orthodoxy. Though the songwriting is beginning to crystallize into formula (e.g. the pleading waltz “Time Spent Missing You,” the thumping rocker “What Do You Know About Love,” the amped-up rockabilly tune “A Place to Cry”), Yoakam introduces numerous stylistic twists, driving “Dreams of Clay” with the frenetic beat from “Peggy Sue,” injecting an unlikely reggae groove into “For Love’s Sake,” covering Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me,” and emulating Hank Williams’s drawl on the otherwise modern “The Heartaches Are Free” (pronounced “for-eee”). Bakersfield legend Buck Owens cowrote and sings harmony on “The Sad Side of Town,” and his duet with Yoakam on the Tex-Mex-flavored “Alright, I’m Wrong” comes complete with Flaco Jimenez on accordion. Opener Gary Allan is definitely a Nashville artist, but he shares Yoakam’s fondness for Bakersfield stars like Owens, Merle Haggard, and Wynn Stewart, and his gruff tenor and stripped-down songs are unusually direct for the Music City. Occasionally he resorts to hokey romantic bromides or dopey muscle flexing, but for the most part his terrific Smoke Rings in the Dark (1999) and his forthcoming Alright Guy (MCA) swagger like they belong in Nashville West. Sunday, September 23, 7 PM, Star Plaza Theatre, I-65 and U.S. 30, Merrillville, Indiana; 773-734-7266 or 312-559-1212.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Annalisa.