Battle Scared Outlaw’s Reflections of life on the road.
It’s hard not to listen to the new album by Billy Don Burns without thinking about fellow hard-living country outlaws such as Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson. Burns is telling the story of his five decades on the road as a musician and poet: “I’ve played a lot of music and I’ve seen a lot of highway.” This is his twelfth studio album.
He pulls no punches as he details the highs and the lows of the life he has chosen. He is however adamant that he is not for changing. In ‘Change Me’ he tells a woman he’s sharing a motel room with “Girl, you can leave me tomorrow if you want to. Just pack your things together as I check out of the room. There will be guitars lying across the bed every day for you to see. Hope you like that kind of thing because it’s all part of me. You can’t change me.” However, in ‘I Went Crazy’ he laments the loss of another ‘good woman’: “I blew through a pack of Marlboro Red trying to smoke her out of my head. I went crazy…. another good woman’s gone”.
In a brutally honest monologue he talks about checking into a motel with the intention of ending it all with his friend and fellow musician Mack Vickery only to be saved at the final moment. The result is the deeply moving track ‘Motel Madness’. The first single is ‘Neon Circus’ written twenty-five years ago with Vickery but given an almost mystical feel by Shooter Jennings with the help of strings and a Spanish guitar reminiscent of the Rambin’ Jack Elliot version of Guy Clark’s ‘The Guitar’.
Burns may not be the most well-known of the genre, but he has collaborated over the years with some of its biggest names. His drug abuse issues, time in prison multiple marriages (six), and the fact he won’t take a backward step in a fight (he was once stabbed seventeen times in a Texas bar) all add to his legend. “I’ve been playing my guitar since I was a kid up and down the highway all I ever did. Never made the big time but I had a had a blast. I had a lot of women, and I kicked a lot of ass”
The definition of Outlaw Country ‘I’ve seen a lot of Highway’ is certainly worth checking out. It documents a truly extraordinary life.