When you think honky-tonk and old time music, West Virginia native Mark Cline Bates is a surprising, and rather refreshing, addition to the modern country landscape. He wears his heart on his sleeve, at least when he bares his soul onstage—eliciting an electric emotional reaction during his live performance. Unwrapping numerous cuts from his brand new self-titled album, including the standout jam "Whiskey Cup," a romantic toe-tapper drapped with American idealism and enough steel guitar to fill an arena, Bates powered through his Dec. 3 performance at Nashville's The Stone Fox with a quiet calm. With his pinpoint confidence rather evident throughout his entire set, he didn't flinch when his guitar needed a quick tune up or the sound system had a wonky few seconds. He continued, passionately focused on the lyrics, and offered up a truly captivating 45-minute set.
Mid-way through his performance, Bates reveled on a night out on the town, which resulted in him backing into an oak tree and learning a valuable life lesson. The brief tale served as the lead-in to the autobiographical "The Last Six Months," a blistering ballad about what small town life is really like: a ruminating story about heartbreak and truth. The track, lifted from the Mark Nevers (Alan Jackson, George Jones) produced album, is the harrowing closer and one of the highlights of Bates' live show.
Two other gems, "The Better Side of Me" and "Bigger Things," harken to early work by Kris Kristofferson, Jones and Merle Haggard. There's an underlining sadness and raw vulnerability that threads its way through Bates catalog, which samples western swing, Jimmie Rodgers-richness and a dash of southern rock. During the show (which could have gone on for three more hours), that autheniticity was palpable, bounding across the stage into the shadowy depths of the crowd. You could feel the thickness in the air (much like his southern drawl). Within the first three songs, his talent spoke loud and clear. Forget the bright lights of Hollywood glam (where he previously lived for two years) and the suited-up machinations of Music Row, Bates is a diamond in the rough.
There's something earthy and charming about his voice that wraps smoothly—often breezily around the lyrics—as found on such tracks as "You'll Forget Me" and "Closer" (which namechecks Randy Travis, one of his influencers). His easy stage presence shouldn't be miscontrued as laziness. His music sits in his back pocket, allowing him just to be at home on the stage and take it all in, unapologetically. It should be mentioned, too, Bates wrote or co-wrote all 12 tracks on his new LP. As evidenced during the show, it is some of the most vivid, most real, most thought-provoking stories to ever grace a stage in Nashville ever.
Grab a copy of Bates' brand new self-titled LP on iTunes now! (You won't regret it!)
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