Dave Yates’ 4-song EP, Cardboard In Her Shoes, has got East Tennessee written all over it.
Of course Yates himself is on the faculty in the East Tennessee State University’s bluegrass music program, and has plied his trade as a singer, songwriter and instrumentalist in the area for years. Fellow faculty members Adam Steffey and Hunter Berry also contribute to the project, as do ETSU graduates Tim Stafford and Barry Bales.
But there’s an East Tennessee sensibility overall in this primarily songwriter-oriented album. If you’ve spent much time in the general area running roughly from Bristol to Knoxville, you know how rich the region is in bluegrass talent. With so much music and so many pickers in the area, it’s that much easier for young people to become familiar with it, generating even more players and fans as the circle grows ever outward.
This is the environment Dave grew up in, and now his career involves teaching the music to eager young members of this next generation.
The four numbers included here highlight his strength as a songwriter, covering several of the recognized sub-genres in bluegrass. The title track, and debut single is a classic mama song, but with the added benefit of being inspired by a true story about Dave’s own mother, and the sacrifices she made to bring her boys up with what they needed.
Orphan Child is a perfect example of the destitute child format, long popular in bluegrass and old time music. Rolling along in three quarter time, it sounds like a forgotten favorite from a 1930s radio songbook. Rob Ickes’ dobro serves as the ideal counterpoint to this simple melody, sung as a duet between Yates and Darrell Webb, another East Tennessean.
The flatpicking tune is another standard form in acoustic music, and with Kansas Wind David demonstrates his mastery of the instrument. This one bears a heavy Stafford influence, as perhaps it must. Tim and Dave are longtime friends, and Stafford served as producer on the project.
Lastly, in what is the standout track on the EP, Dave all but assembles Blue Highway in the studio for a song he wrote with Stafford and Bobby Starnes called Million Dollar Man. Wayne Taylor sings lead with Shawn Lane singing tenor on this tale of a man that makes it to the top of the music charts, only to lose it all to “the devil and George Dickel.” Yates plays lead guitar with Stafford on rhythm. Look for this one to show up on radio before long.
Dave isn’t what you would call an especially facile or versatile singer, but what there may be lacking in “Male Vocalist of the Year” qualities is made up for with expressiveness and conviction. When he sings about his mama or the little orphan child, you believe him right away.
Despite the lack of banjo, Cardboard In Her Shoes should find a ready audience among bluegrass lovers. There’s no 1-4-5 drive, but plenty of sincerity and “real life” truth in the sensitive lyrics.
The album is available from Dave’s web site, and from CD Baby and other popular online resellers.