Prime Cuts: Past the Past, Time, I Will Always
You know you are dealing with a sublime album when you cannot even choose your favorite cuts to write about. Every one of these 12 songs is a winner. Lawson Bates may be only 24 years-old but he likes like one of those stellar traditional country music scribes from of yore such as Mike Reid, Paul Overstreet, and even Harlan Howard. He has a keening ability to wax reality into his three dimensional narratives that transports you right into the happenstances of his songs. Take a listen, for instance, to "Past the Past" and you can't help but picture yourself standing at the front porch as the couple bid their farewells. And unlike many of his country music peers today, the backing is unapologetic country where steel, fiddles, and the acoustic strumming of guitars take the fore. Here, you won't have to worry about loop drums or syncopated synth riffs. Most importantly, there is a strong faith-imbued morality and spirituality in-built in these tracks that make this record ultimately one of redemptive significance.
Bates is no novice in the world of entertainment. Many may remember him in the hit reality TV series "Bringing Up Bates." Growing up in the hills of Tennessee, music, family, and his faith in God were instrumental in his background. He prayed to become a Christian as an 11-year-old. At eighteen, he began working in Nashville with award winning instrumentalist and producer Andy Leftwich on his first solo album, "Freedom Sure Ain't Free." The album featured two original titles. In 2015, he released the single "I Thought I Had Problems" to raise awareness and support for global disaster relief. He released his second single, "I Will Always" in 2016, which climbed to 46 on the iTunes country charts and all the way to number one on Amazon traditional country.
"What Country Means to Me" is Bates' full length country album where he has recorded 9 new songs and three covers. Let's start with the new songs. "Love's the Reason" recalls country music in the 90s where snippets of stories from the protagonist's lives are artfully pearl-stringed together by a chorus which speaks of how love is the ultimately the answer to all our variegated problems. This is a must-hear message made even more accessible with the song's well-crafted melody. If you have wondered where those heart stirring songs about family have gone, look no farther than the Bates' self-penned "Time." Crafted within the context of his grandfather's legacy, the song is one of the best tunes that speaks of our need to be good stewards of time.
Be prepared to be swept away by the romantic ballad (and single) "I Will Always." And just as no country music will ever be complete without a heartbreak tune or two, "Past the Past" and "I'll Love Again" are the representative offerings here. Yet, they are not phone-in mandatory affairs, on "Past the Past," you can feel the drench of heartache as Bates still waxes nostalgia on a love gone south. But not all is about love and romance. "Smaller Plans" is a kick in the heart ballad that speaks of God's purposes even in our sufferings and disappointments that is pulverising. While "You Asked Him to Leave" gets a little on the cliché side that decries the decrypting morality of our nation.
We should not bypass the covers. At first glance, they may look awkward on paper. Not too many country artists will include a Sinatra number. But when Bates takes on "The Way You Look Tonight," he makes it his own with a lilting jazzy country swing. Then he delivers a gorgeous take of Aaron Tippin's "You've Got to Stand for Something," before closing with the hymn "I Have Decided," which features some outstanding piano riffs. As mentioned earlier, there are absolutely no fillers here. All 12 songs are 12 gems; this is what a good record ought to be.