Billy Yates managed just one top 40 hit with ‘Flowers’ back in 1997, but since losing his major label deal he has released a string of records on his own MOD label, as well as forging a successful songwriting career.
Billy’s music is firmly rooted in mainstream traditional country. His voice is not exceptional, but it is good with a pleasing twang, and he is a very accomplished writer with a good ear for playful lyrics, writing or co-writing all the material on his latest effort. It opens promisingly with the plaintive honky tonking ‘Famous For Being Your Fool’, in which the protagonist, formerly happy in obscurity, finds himself a public laughing stock thanks to the woman he is hopelessly in thrall to.
Several songs tackle faltering relationships with an undercurrent of suspicion. The best of the songs tackling this theme is the slow ‘Tell Me I’m Wrong’, written with Carson Chamberlain and Billy Ryan, as a husband vainly hopes he may be reading wrongly all the signs of a woman on her way out of the marriage:
“That note you left was hard to read
Through the teardrops in my eyes
I think it said you’d rather be alone
Tell me I’m wrong
You can say I’m crazy, that I’ve lost my mind
Tell me what I’m seeing is a sign I’m going blind
And those bags sitting right there by the back door
Lead me to believe that you don’t love me any more”
Well, yes. Equally desperate not to see what is in plain view to everyone else is the protagonist of ‘I Just Can’t See It’, written with Irene Kelley, who admits,
“If I look for trouble, then trouble is what I’ll find”
but claims he “can’t see a single cloud up in the sky”, before finally declaring:
“My love is strong and that will never change
And that is why I look the other way.”
The protagonist of the neatly constructed ‘Get Ready, Get Set, She’s Gone’, is a little more prepared for heartbreak, as he engages in a conversation with his heart:
“Get ready, ’cause we’re about to break
Get set for the steps she’s about to take
Hold on, be steady,
One of us has to be strong
Get ready, get set, she’s gone.”
The mid-tempo ‘It Goes Without Sayin”, written with John Raney, is the most contemporary sounding song, and is probably my least favorite as Billy seems to be glossing over the heartbreak beneath the lyric. Much more convincing is the straightforward heartbreak of the one solo composition on the set, as the subdued protagonist tries to conceal ‘This Pain Inside Of Me’ from the woman who has caused it.
The best song on the album is the melancholy ‘Already Gone’, written with Buddy Cannon, as the narrator tries to help an old friend who has taken refuge in alcohol and lost himself in the process:
“I took the whiskey bottle and drank a little down
Took what was left and poured it on the ground
But he was already gone
He found himself a place where the pain couldn’t find him
Where being left alone don’t hurt so bad
A place where his heart could go to find a little comfort
No words that I could say would bring him back
He was already gone”
A more positive take on alcohol emerges when Billy writes with Bart Butler. The wryly amusing ‘One Beer A Day’ is another highlight of the record:
“She said we could be friends if you weren’t an alcoholic….
Now every time I see her looking at me
I scramble for the bottle hoping she might see
‘Cause one beer a day keeps the ex-wife away
As long as she knows that I’m drinking
She won’t come around ’til I put it down
But she don’t really know what I’m thinking
No, I ain’t a drunk, I just use the stuff
For medicinal therapy
It ain’t doctor prescribed, but it keeps my ex-wife
From coming back home to me.”
The pair also wrote the rapid-paced fun novelty ‘The Alphabet Song’, about a kid learning his ABCs from the names of classic country stars, from (Roy) Acuff to (Gene) Watson and Webb (Pierce). They joined Jason Allen to write ‘Margarita Meltdown’, in which verses detailing tha narrator’s everyday stress are rattled off at breakneck speed, seguing into the mellow chorus as he fantasizes about relaxing by a pool a with margarita in hand.
Also on the lighter side is the loungy ‘Fishin’ Around’, written with Jeff Stevens, which uses the fishing-as-dating metaphor less successfully than Tammy Cochran does on her new album. Another slight disappointment is the co-write with Leslie Satcher, usually one of my favorite writers. ‘Wayward Ways’ is just a little dull and doesn’t really go anywhere.
The title track offers an affectionate portrait of Billy’s father’s barber’s shop in Missouri, and the community it serves. By turns amusing and touching, this is how to write a song about a small town and make it sound real.
Finally, the romantic (but cheating) song ‘I’d Do It For You’ was written with Sunny Sweeney, and it is a shame that (perhaps due to label conflicts?) she was not able to take the duet part. Instead, Billy has recruited Nicole Broussard, a young singer with a lightly smoky but not very country voice. Their voices do blend well, and the song is effective, but it feels a little out of place.
Available from CDBaby.