Ontario roots stalwart Yates has been dropping singles in anticipation of the full release of this latest album, due in January, and it's sounding great. Yates helped put alt-country on the map in Canada with major label releases in the late 80s and 90s, did the Nashville thing, met, recorded, and toured with tons of legends, and has calmly put out a ton of great music since. She also formed the Toronto downtown favourites Hey Stella, a beloved live act for the past 25 years featuring Blue Rodeo's Bazil Donovan on bass, drummer Michelle Josef, and the late, beloved David Baxter, producer and pal to so many. Hey Stella features as the core band on this album, recorded before Baxter's passing, and produced by Yates and Rheostatics' Tim Vesely.
Matador is focused on Yates' succinct, world-wise songwriting, which comes across like good advice from a true friend. First single "Alive" acknowledges "all the troubles that I've been through," but reminds us that "It's good to be alive, even when it hurts to be alive." She dips back into her storied past for a late 80s Nashville co-write with the great Guy Clark on the second single, just out, called "Time After Time." That one drips with classic lines, such as "Somewhere down the road to good intentions," and perfect rhymes, like "The best you can do is trust your heart/and call on me if you fall apart." The original version, featured on her 1989 debut album, was produced by Bob Johnston (Dylan, Cohen, Cash, etc.) and this sounds just as vital, the return of an overlooked gem.
If anything can overshadow her songwriting, it's Yates' subtle, impassioned vocals. This is a relatively quiet album, but she brings a muted intensity to songs like "I Loved Ya," which hits just as hard as a full rocker. She seems to hit your heart before your ears, a melancholy moodiness that stays there through the whole album. She can lean back and belt when needed, like in her old cowpunk days, and on the final cut, "Cowboy," she reveals her purest country voice, with a hitch that would make Emmylou Harris a little jealous. Alt-country still rules Queen St. West in Toronto.