Grand Ole Opry star Porter Wagoner once said of Billy Don Burns, "He's got that certain hunger in his voice." That same hunger Porter spoke of a couple of decades ago can still be heard today on Billy Don's latest album, Train Called Lonesome. A spectacular blend of bluegrass rhythms and honky-tonk melodies, each track on this lonesome train rumbles with raw excitement, murmurs with pure melancholy, and sizzles with awe-inspiring honesty.
Billy Don Burns hails from the town of Mountain View, in the Ozarks of Arkansas. It's just barely an exaggeration to say that in his thirty-plus-year career he's more than likely played every smoke-filled honky-tonk throughout the world. An international star with an especially loyal European following, Billy Don first garnered American acclaim as a songwriter in 1974, with a cut on a Connie Smith album. Since that time, Mel Tillis, Willie Nelson and Johnny Paycheck have also mined Billy Don's catalog for material, and he's also released a handful of his own albums, each one a unique glimpse into the complicated life of this honky-tonk troubadour. In 1997, he reached the No. 1 spot on Gavin's Americana chart with the album Desperate Men: The Legend and the Outlaw, a collaboration with songwriter Hank Cochran.
While each tune on Train Called Lonesome draws listeners in with vivid imagery and staggering honesty, one of the songs that grabbed immediate attention from listeners around the world also made one young girl happy. Billy Don explains: "I was dating this girl, and her daughter's name was Sarai Green. She asked me to write her a song. I said, 'It's not that easy.' Well, I bought her a horse and the horse's name was Ruby Red. So, all of a sudden, I had 'Sarai Green and Ruby Red' and the song just came to me." With that kind of serendipity and inspiration involved, it's not surprising the entire album was recorded in just two four-hour sessions. It also helps to have accomplished players involved, including Don Wayne and Dale Reno, the sons of bluegrass legend Don Reno and highly-respected pickers in their own right. Also on board, playing fiddle, was Deanie Richardson, a former New Coon Creek Girl who was last heard on Patty Loveless' bluegrass masterpiece, Mountain Soul.
Many of Billy Don's fellow musicians are quick to acknowledge his inestimable talent. Longtime friend Tanya Tucker calls his music "good, honest songs of the heart and soul," and singer-songwriter Kevin Welch proclaims, "He combines a sure-handed craft with a keen eye, and a wisdom you can't get by staying holed up in some publishing company cell."