Peden, CSO Staff Journalist
lyrics from one of his songs, Billy Yates is country, too
country and, what’s more, he’s proud of it. Raised in
southern Missouri, in a little town of 1500 called Doniphan,
he has been plugging away in Nashville since his arrival in
’87. He’s flirted with big label possibilities as Curb,
Columbia and Almo Sounds all expressed early interest, only to
let the fire go cold. But Yates didn’t buckle. He overcame
disappointment and did what special, ambitious people with a
tune inside them do. He started his own label.
As a defiant
finger salute to record execs who now probably curse lost
opportunity, the former small-town barber ("Daddy was a
barber and had always encouraged my brother and I to learn a
trade") started M.O.D. Records. The defiance rings on –
My Own Damn record label is Yates’ joke at the mainstream.
But rather than mope and see the venture as second best, the
label is a cause for independent celebration. Without the
shackles of a major label, the Grammy-nominated singer and
writer has crafted, and, more importantly, won a fair slice of
notable European interest (he’s toured there to wide
popularity). He’s also had a host of American
"names" including George Strait, Kenny Chesney, Sara
Evans, Doug Stone and others cut his tunes.
"best of" album, it’s fitting one of the cuts on Favorites,
"Anywhere But Nashville", tells of a determined
talent who chases fame in New York and L.A, only to find that
Nashville still rewards those who can deliver. And Yates
delivers. Just Ask George Jones.
royalties are good when the Possum records your music.
And Yates would know. Jones has recorded four tunes, with the
’92 hit "I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair" and
the Grammy nominated "Choices" as memory-makers.
Chair, a 1993
CMA Vocal Event Of The Year, with its caustic stab against age
and opportunity shot Jones back into the mid-nineties
" I don't need your
Your Geritol or your Medicare
Well I still got Neon in my veins
This grey hair don't mean a thing
I do my rockin' on the stage
You can't put this possum in a cage
My body's old but it ain't impaired
Well I don't need your rockin' chair "
pick a much better tune for veteran Jones, except
"Choices". The tale of deep introspection and
sobering reflection was tailor-made:
By an early age I found
I liked drinkin'
Oh, and I never turned it down
There were loved ones
But I turned them all away
Now I'm living and dying
With the choices I made"
Now years on,
Yates has teamed with Jones and together they bring a reworked
and charged "Choices" to Favorites. Emotive,
probing and honest – the tune, as it was in its heyday, is a
But then so is
collaborative Yates (every one of the 21 tunes on this, his
fifth album, is co-written AND just see who he shares ink
with) knows instinctively how to work a song. His voice is
smooth; his band tight; his lyrics sharp. The album, and
believe me when I tell you, comes riddled and value packed
with should-be hits and potentials.
Radio has been
kind to many of the tracks here – current international
release, "Better Every Beer" is included, so too the
thigh-slappin’, "Too Country And Proud Of It", and
the European chart-climbin’ "Roxanne’s Bayou"
all offer repeat play value. "Harmony Man" has done
well on European charts, while "The Circus Is Over"
is a respectful nod to hero Buck Owens. The humorous
"Daddy Had A Cardiac And Mama’s Got A Cadillac"
plays with marital honesty for some, and "Alcohol
Abuse", a current outing for Pete Schlegal, is Saturday
night in a song.
But in the best
of traditions, the killer cut, at least to my shell-like ears,
is the final track, "Flowers". To be honest, I’d
never heard the track before, though it was a minor hit on its
release in the late nineties.
The song is
crafted, telling and inspirational –you can’t ask much
more. From his perch on top of a barstool, a drunk husband
decides to drive – the results paint troubled misery in the
"I still see you on your knees
Begging me not to drive
But I took away the keys
And made you climb inside
And I would take your place in this field of stones
If I only had to power
Look what it took
For me to finally bring you flowers"
it took for me to finally bring you flowers" is a
chilling metaphor, one that demands a sensitive overhaul of
our purposes and actions in our wider lives.
Billy Yates, if
the breaks come and they deservedly should, comes primed and
ready for his go-round in the neon glow. I, for one, hope he
gets it. This album goes a long way to showcase an artist
whose time is close.
offers confirmation at Yates’ web site:
"When I asked the question, 'Who’s Gonna Fill Their
Shoes', it was before I knew about Billy Yates. When it comes
to great country singers and great country songwriters they
don't get any better than Billy. I guess you could say the ol'
possum is a Billy Yates fan!"
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Its the Greatest Album for a long time.
~ John R. (England)