Billy Yates' first self-released album came three years after an obscure self-titled disc for Almo Sounds and a low-charting single for Columbia Records, a label that he exited in 2001. Even Allmusic describes this move as a roll of the dice, and I would have to agree. Independent acts don't always get the attention that they so often deserve, so that's where reviewers such as I step in to praise acts such as Billy Yates.
"Too Country and Proud of It" is no doubt a slight at any detractors he might have built up for being "too country" for a major label. Even though it name-drops George Jones and Conway Twitty, it still rises above its ditty status to seem more like a mission statement for the album than cheap radio fodder. Similarly, "They Don't Make Us Like They Used To" is a song about meeting the ghosts of several past country artists including Hank. Yates seems about as country as can be, so it's hard not to believe him even if he's engaging in yet more name-dropping.
"A Better Place" feels somewhat like an inversion of "Flowers" from the first album; this time, he's the one who's in an accident and she's the one who mourns his loss and finds out too late that she should've loved him more, but he assures himself that he's in a better place. It doesn't have nearly the same impact as "Flowers," but it's still a solid enough work.
For a George-Straitish vibe, "I Think I Like It" is an easygoing little number expressing a newfound pleasure in love, as well as the surprise that he indeed likes it even though he was unsure at first. On the flip side is "If I Ever Get Her Back," where he promises to kick old habits and clean herself up, even though there's that one (not so) little step of getting her back first. It's a pleasant little variation on the similar songs that list off all the "should have"s that one usually realizes after the fact. Maybe a little bit earlier on, he was promising to pack her suitcase and hold the door while she goes back to someone else, just as he says in "You'll Never Hear Me Crawl." Of course, the slightly reedy, Gene Watson-esque vocal on this song doesn't hurt, either. The hardcore "In the Light of Day" starts off as a sad heartbreak tune, but easily makes a transition into an optimistic promise that he will be okay come the morning, because he'll have forgotten her.
"As the Crow Flies" has a slightly darker sound than the rest of the album, taking yet another fresh look at lost love and heartbreak while spinning a new idea out of a familiar phrase. It's songs like this that show just how capable a writer Yates is. And if a silly title is what you're after, check out "Daddy Had a Cardiac and Mama Got a Cadillac," a cute little number about growing up poor with an unfaithful dad who dies… and of course, the rest of them are all living it up once the life insurance check gets cashed. It's kind of dark comedy, but that's what makes it better.
Finally, there's the mellow title track, assuring that he's doing just fine with his new house, and he's lost her but found himself. He states, however, that he wishes to go back to the start of their relationship and undo everything he did wrong. No doubt many a person with a broken heart wishes the same, and no doubt many of them feel the same amount of emotion that Yates puts into it.
Even though If I Could Go Back was only his first release after going independent, it's still a very, very strong album from start to finish, with Yates constantly baring emotions while singing and writing to the best of his ability. He's found a mellow, charming sound that would fit in with the likes of George Strait, Joe Nichols, Jamey Johnson or any other traditonal-leaning act. From If I Could Go Back onward, Yates' output has been some of the best country I've reviewed in a while.
You can support Billy Yates by purchasing this album via his website.
This review is part of our Album Archive: The Music of Billy Yates series. Click below to check out more reviews.