The twang of the steel guitar hits you instantly; the silvery plying of emotion from your body. Something about the sound of wilting metal that takes you instantly to an expanse of field somewhere in the Midwest…Ken Yates debut EP Twenty Three is everything that that initial note promises, stories of love and loss, simple songs thoughtfully penned without grand ambition, secrets of life extracted from caught moments in time.
So here’s the thing about good folk music; its melody and lyricism in equal measure. You can say whatever you like about how a harmonica makes you feel, or what the twist of a voice catching does to your insides, but if you don’t get that you’re listening to a sung story then you’re dead in the water. Ken Yates understands this.
Curtain Call is a beautiful song, one that allows valuable insight into Yates’ pared down expectations of fame. This song could be written about anyone. At first listen it’s seemingly written about a love interest, a girl at a country dance who projects a better version of herself because her confidence wanes when she is without approval, but it could just as easily been written about him. If that’s the case, think about the introspection that would have to have gone into writing a song about being the best version of yourself, flaws and all, for no audience at all. That in itself is true artistic merit.
‘I don’t want to Fall in Love’, arguably the album’s most commercially successful song, has gotten an incredible amount of airtime on Sirius XM’s Coffee House station. You’ve heard this song. Everyone has. It delivers what a country folk song should; unpacking both the fearful and excitable side of love from the viewpoint of a shy and most likely twice burned man who refuses to give up on the idea of love entirely, even if he writes a song telling us otherwise. What an incredible thing, a five minute profession of self realization that we as listeners recognize as a lie. That in itself is songwriting magic.
There is something pure about the way Yates approaches music. Soft country may not be everyone’s cup of sweet tea, but I believe Yates has talent. He is a great songwriter, as confessed publicly by his hero John Mayer. Twenty Three is a dish best served while you swing lazily in a hammock, a bottle of beer warming in fading country light, your cowboy hat tipped over your face as you listen to life lessons stream from the speakers as weaving silver threads.