"What a treasure this album is.
I’ll spare you the lengthy diatribe about what shame it is that Billy Don Burns isn’t a more heralded and recognized elder of the greater country music community. But rest assured, he should be. When you’ve produced albums for Johnny Paycheck and Merle Haggard, and had Willie Nelson cut your songs and appear on your albums, you deserve to be thrown a few more bones than what Billy Don has found at his feet. But you don’t need to drop names to know what a one-of-a-kind talent Billy Don Burns is, all you have to do is listen.
|Billy Don Burns, Merle Haggard, Neal James and Johnny Paycheck|
There are great songwriters, and then there are songwriters that define the apogee of the craft, songwriters like Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt…and Billy Don Burns. There are songs on Nights When I’m Sober that will rip at your heart like nothing else. There’s a great variety on the album with sweet songs and fun songs. And where Billy Don elevates the stakes is in the production and approach to each composition. With producer/guitar player Aaron Rodgers, they reinvigorate the late-era, rock-infused Outlaw sound that had Haggard and Paycheck seeking Billy Don’s services.
Aside from maybe Tom Waits, Hank Williams and a few others, I have never heard an artist be able to pull as much emotion out of a composition as Billy Don Burns does by slowing everything down in the tear-jerking songs that constitute the backbone of this album. “Is He the Writer?” and “Stranger” are two excellent selections that work in the traditional Keith Whitley-style self-referential method that calls on both wit and irony to drive home a tragic story. “When Lonesome Comes Around” is a lot more of a loose arrangement, and takes “darkness” to all new depths as Billy Don tells the story of a man inviting in illusion as the one last antidote to alleviate chronic sorrow.
|Billy Don Burns - Nights When I'm Sober... Portrait Of A Honky Tonk Singer|
What elevates this album the most, the intangible of Nights When I’m Sober is the authenticity Billy Don Burns can approach these songs with. The battle will rage on forever about if songwriters and performers have to live what they sing and write about to be authentic, but with Billy Don, the point is moot.
In the song “Is He the Writer?” Billy Don mentions the classic tale of the artist cutting off his ear to suffer so he can draw inspiration. Many artists and their fans love this romantic notion of art and inspiration, but few artists have the commitment to see it through. You get the sense that with Billy Don, if times were tough, he wouldn’t hesitate looking for a fillet knife, and that he’s done the rough equivalent of cutting his ear off many times before, and will again before it’s all over.
Billy Don Burn’s albums Train Called Lonesome and Heroes, Friends, & Other Troubled Souls are also worth picking up, but I think one could make the case for Night’s When I’m Sober being Billy Don’s defining release.
Two guns up!"
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|Billy Don Burns, album review on Saving Country Music|