Jan
2

2012 Song of the Year – Billy Don Burns’ “Stranger”

January 2, 2013 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  14 Comments

These are never easy decisions to make, and it’s at about this time every year when I wonder why I pressure myself into making them. This year’s crop of nominees for Song of the Year seemed especially strong; songs that will go on to be marquee songs in each of the nominee’s legacies.

If I were to base the winner simply on importance, it would have gone to Kacey Musgraves’ “Merry Go Round” that stubbornly refuses to leave the mainstream country music charts despite its progressive message. If I based it on being the best pure country song, it would have gone to Eric Strickland’s “Drinking Whiskey.” If I based it on the song I personally liked the most, it would have been Olds Sleeper’s “Bigsky/Flatland.” Tom Vandenavond’s “Wreck of a Fine Man” probably told the best story, and “Good Lord, Lorrie” made The Turnpike Troubadours a legitimate, full-time band that has made it. And the only way I can not justify giving the award outright to Sturgill Simpson is because “Life Ain’t Fair & The World Is Mean” will likely appear on a new album next year, allowing it to be considered again.

billy-don-burns-2All these songs were so equally matched, I chose to let the commenters help decide this one significantly, and that is the first reason the award is going to Billy Don Burns, and his masterpiece “Stranger.” The second reason is since all of these songs are so well-written, it would have been impossible to order them by this attribute alone so I had to start looking at other factors. Where “Stranger” rose above the competition was in the production of the song, and the performance by Billy Don Burns.

“Production” is considered a bad word to some in music, and what’s funny about the production of “Stranger” is that it’s almost outmoded in its approach. It’s certainly not modern, but it’s really not classic either. It works in these strange, late 80′s, early 90′s textures, with lots of space, color, and warmth. It evokes the epicness of anthemic songs from that period like Willie Nelson’s “Pancho & Lefty” or The Highwaymen’s “Highwayman” that a short while ago may have felt hokey, but now harkens back to the last era when you could still hear the overlords of the genre come through your radio. The production is both heavy handed and astonishingly lacking and laid back at the same time. Serious accolades are due Aaron David Rodgers who produced “Stranger” and the parent album Night’s When I’m Sober.

Billy Don Burns is a writer first, but he sings the hell out of this song by structuring it around his vocal strengths. Instead of appreciating his voice for conventional notions of beauty, you appreciate it for its raspy, strained, and torn nature. Instead of singing louder or harder when Billy Don wants to create emphasis in “Stranger,” he counter-intuitively sings softer, or even talks, with the quieter he gets, the more you listen, and the greater impact the words have. Parallel to the story “Stranger” coveys, the song doesn’t rise like most, it falls. In moments Billy barely eeks the words out of his rusted pipes like they are the words of a dying breath, marrying the depth of meaning and story behind the expressions to the sounds he makes, while the music bends and sometimes drops out entirely to compliment the experience of listening to a story that is both tragic in nature, and hauntingly universal.

This song is about losing yourself, which we’ve all done, and will all do again, and how we all start off life with a firm grasp on who we are that life does its level best to wrestle away from us. But inside “Stranger” there is also a glimmer of hope in how the realization of one’s self can stimulate renewal. And above all of that, the beauty of “Stranger” is its fierce simplicity–the attribute of all excellent country songs.

Billy Don Burns seems like one of these artists whose opportunity for a serious, lucrative career in music is unjustly fleeting, but his chance at a long-term legacy in music seems all but inevitable from all of the songs he written, the albums he’s produced, and all the friends he has made over the years. For a long time folks had been trying to get my attention about Billy Don, and the timing apparently just wasn’t right. Whitey Morgan once told me he would never put out an album without a Billy Don song on it. Brigitte London told me he was one of the best songwriter she’d ever met. I poked around and found he’d written songs for Willie Nelson, and produced albums from Merle Haggard and Johnny Paycheck.

But what Billy Don needed was a new album to breathe new life into his musical quest; to bring a new generation of ears to his music. And on the year of the release of this song and his album Nights When I’m Sober through Rusty Knuckles Records, it would have been a desecration of the Saving Country Music seal to not use the opportunity to shine however puny of a spotlight this website wields on what in my opinion might be the artist who is suffering from the greatest discrepancy between remarkable accomplishment and paltry recognition in country music.

Billy Don Burns’ song “Stranger” proves why it is such a travesty that his name and legacy are such strangers to the modern country ear. It’s imperative on all of us to fix that.

14 Comments to “2012 Song of the Year – Billy Don Burns’ “Stranger””

  • Not bad if I say so myself. Not sure if it would by my favorite song of the year but still excellent.

       2 likes

  • Wow glad someone else has noticed what a great singer BDB is His new cd
    “Night’s When I’m Sober” is my cd of the year

       7 likes

  • I agree with Chris. For me personally it wasn’t my favorite of the year…..That being said it was definitely in my top 3. BDB is a damn fine artist and 2012 made me appreciate his talents all that much more.

    Another great article Trig, thanks for taking the time to bring these artists the attention they so deserve

       7 likes

  • Wow… I may still be partial to “Merry Go Round,” but this was beautiful and powerful stuff.

       2 likes

  • fine choice my friend. this song or merry go round would have been my pick as well

       4 likes

  • Not my top pick BUT Damn fine song and performance.

       1 likes

  • “Stranger” is a Country Music masterpiece. Thank you for recognizing one of the greatest talents in true Country Music.

       8 likes

  • Billy Don is the greatest song writer alive today and deserves much more recognition than he receives. The new CD Nights When I’m Sober is a must have for any serious country music fan.

       8 likes

  • Great choice Trigger! BDB is a Class Act!

       4 likes

  • Great album. Reminds me of shannington in the fall. Lots of releases that go bump in the night when you listen. I highly recommend this album.

       4 likes

  • What a great singer and songwriter bdb is. Aaron Rodgers really brought out intense emotions from bdb. This is my favorite album by far this year. Billy and Aaron worked it out perfect for this album

       4 likes

  • I’m really sad that the Taylor Swift article received more comment attention than the “Song of the Year” AND “Album of the Year” articles COMBINED.

       2 likes

  • [...] The song “Stranger” is featured on the new Billy Don Burns album, Nights When I’m Sober: Portrait of a Honky Tonk Singer.¬†It was named 2012 Song of the Year by Saving Country Music. Saving Country Music is the most popular roots music blog on the web and is run by Kyle Coroneos, otherwise known as “Trigger.” Coroneos calls “Stranger” a masterpiece, praising both the song itself and the vocal performance. ¬†Read the full article HERE.¬† [...]

       3 likes

  • Thank you for giving this record the attention and praise that you have. It was earned in spades by blood, sweat, and tears. Billy Don’s brilliant storytelling combined with unmeasurable dedication from Aaron Rodgers bore a bonafide masterpiece, and a landmark in BD’s career. Something I pray will not soon be forgotten, and that can outlive us all.

       4 likes

Leave a comment

Old Soul Radio Show
Hillgrass Bluebilly
KOOK

Categories

Archives