With Aaron Lines, Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts and Brooks & Dunn
Country music can't win. Its stars once sang about snorting lines, shooting wayward women, drinking doubles and driving pickup trucks, predating death metal and gangsta rap by decades. But as urban ears became increasingly sensitive, the genre embraced nonthreatening pop. Unfortunately, pop reversed the hold, bear-hugging the genre and squeezing it until its once-distinctive voice fell silent. Jeff Bates, who recently released his debut disc, Rainbow Man, and is playing brief sets as the opening act on Brooks & Dunn's decadent Neon Circus tour, aims to bring the sound of artists such as Conway Twitty back to the radio. With his satisfyingly deep, twangy delivery and song titles such as "My In-laws are Outlaws," Bates nails the traditionalist formula; unlike his alt-country cousins, this Mississippi native isn't acting. A former welder who struggled with drug addiction, Bates makes his blue-collar blues and tough-times tales feel real. But he's also adept at the all-important airplay-friendly ballad, expressing genuine emotion in his self-penned odes to loved ones. It shouldn't take long for Bates to become a rural legend.