We are all shaped by our experiences. What we’ve seen and heard influences our expectations about pretty much everything. How much influence varies with the situation and topic but it’s difficult to be a truly blank slate. Album reviews are really no different.
When I was asked for thoughts about the new release Those Were The Days from Newnan, Georgia’s Joe Yeoman, I brought some expectations to the table with me. I’ve heard his work in the past, either live or via video, admittedly more often covers than originals. We’ve talked numerous times about the current state of country music, about various performers and styles, about what appeals to him both as an artist and as a fan. I sat down to listen with all that input creating certain expectations about what I would hear. Pretty reasonable I’d say … except, you know, for the parts where I got surprised.
The album overall evokes Skynyrd, The Eagles, and Marshall Tucker a lot more than it brings to mind Haggard and Jones, or even a more modern-era reference like Stapleton. The more country sides of those icons most frequently, but those are the influences that appeared clearly and repeatedly to me. There’s more ball cap than cowboy hat if you will.
That might not surprise those more familiar with his live performances but for me it quickly stood some expectations on their head. Good thing really, because as the album progresses there were more surprises in store.
Most albums these days seem to be front-loaded, with the better material clustered at the beginning, but if anything I found the album to grow stronger the deeper it went. That’s not a criticism of the first few songs — indeed “All I Really Need (To Party)” is perhaps the most “radio-ready” track on the disc while “Closer To A Sinner” highlights the songwriter element of his skills — but I mean it as a testament to what follows.
The midpoint of the album, “I’ll Be Me” brings things to another level, where the performance, the writing, the production, everything comes together to go from “good” to “special”. From there, quickly enough “Let’s Start Tonight” adds another standout track to the list of highlights. Two more strongpoints follow in rapid succession, with arguably his strongest songwriting taking center stage on “Where Can You Go” and the bluesy track “The Man” proving to be the most sophisticated cut as it sounds far more upbeat instrumentally than the dark subject matter of the lyrics would typically be paired with.
Expectations and surprises. With more than two years of effort in the album, by someone that takes notions like work ethic like very seriously, I’m not the least bit surprised by the final product. I already knew he could sing, I already knew he could write, so I’m not the least bit surprised by those things being displayed here either. But it is a debut album, in a frequently cookie-cutter genre. There are more nuances than here than I might have reasonably expected, more angles of approach, more depth than you’d normally find.
I’m prone to comparisons so I might as well make one more. Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to hear quite a few artists in the very early stages of their career, more often than not you have a pretty good notion of their ceiling. First albums are often the best work of an artists’ career, especially in terms of writing, because they’ve literally been a lifetime in the making rather than just a small portion of a lifetime. The one that most frequently came to my mind while listening to Those Were The Days was Danny Shirley, who would later become better known as the front man and face of Confederate Railroad. With him, as with Joe Yeoman here, there was a sense that there was more to come, that while things were already good we still hadn’t seen the best that was yet to come.
There’s certainly more than enough here to enjoy as it stands, it’s a solid effort … but it’s hard to not start looking forward to what might come next.
You can keep track of Joe on social media at
and at his website http://www.joeyeoman.com/
You can pick up Joe’s new album at