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Jeff Bates

Jeff Bates – 2008 (Black River Music)

Reviewed by Robert Loy

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CDs by Jeff Bates

In this time of faux outlaws, Jeff Bates is a refreshing real deal. His back story reads like a Johnny Cash song - abandoned as a baby, raised by sharecroppers, Bates has endured three marriages, a drug habit and some time in jail for grand larceny. But that's nothing compared to the crime against esthetics that his art director is guilty of - picking a CD cover photo that's a dead ringer for Garth Brooks' ill-fated alter ego Chris Gaines.

Bates' music doesn't really reflect an outlaw sensibility - or fictional Australian sensibilities either (Gaines was Australian). The singer he's most often compared to is Conway Twitty, and the comparison with the man known as "a song's best friend" is apt, especially on the love songs like "Somebody's Falling" and "One Thing" and the "Tight-Fittin' Jeans"-esque "A Country Girl Can."

But he's twangier than Conway, when he sings about "hot cornbread" and "homegrown tomatoes" on "Country Man" there can be no doubt he's singing from personal experience. He can get poetic too: at a friend's graveside, the singer on "Riverbank" reflects on how similar the geography - if nothing else - is to their old fishing hole. And his sense of humor is evident on tracks like "I Can't Have Nothing Nice."

In other words, Jeff Bates can do it all. What's not to like? Well, other than that soul patch.