Billy Dean portrait Florida-born country crooner Billy Dean got his start as a contestant on the Star Search TV show -- the prehistoric, 1980's precursor to American Idol. His debut album established him as a Top Ten artist, specializing in softer romantic material. Mostly, this stuff ain't my cup of tea, but here's a quick look at his work...

Discography - Best-Ofs

Billy Dean "Greatest Hits" (Liberty, 1994)

Billy Dean "Love Songs" (Capitol, 2000)

Billy Dean "The Best Of Billy Dean" (Capitol, 2003)

Billy Dean "The Very Best Of Billy Dean" (Capitol, 2005)

Discography - Albums

Billy Dean "Young Man" (Capitol, 1990)
(Produced by Chuck Howard & Tom Shapiro)

With a name like "Billy Dean," and all that long hair, you think -- oh, this guy's gonna be all maverick-y and youthful -- a real trailblazer! Sadly, he's kind of a drip. This is generally sluggish and formulaic, with whiffs of "romantic" sludginess ala Michael Bolton and glib quotes of Eagles-ish country-rock ever-present in the mix. While there are a couple of tracks that almost approach okay-ness, mostly this guy leaves me flat. Much of the production seems rooted in the ramshackle, experimental synthiness of the '80s, and Dean's voice isn't strong enough to carry you past that rinkydink feel. The only thing he's really got going on that works for him is when he cranks the arrangements up into a full-on vocal chorus, ala the Bellamy Brothers/Oak Ridge Boys, and the music sort of bulldozes you into tapping your toes. Otherwise, I'm pretty unimpressed.

Billy Dean "Billy Dean" (Liberty, 1991)
(Produced by Chuck Howard & Tom Shapiro)

A fairly tame set. Even when he goes rowdy, it sounds pretty controlled and contrived. Dean doesn't have a soulful enough voice to really carry the softer ballads, or enough grit to sound convincing when he strikes a macho pose. "Small Favors" has a nice, simple, Don Williams-ish air about it, but few songs on here even come close to that moderate level of grace... Mostly this seems pretty workmanlike and sluggish.

Billy Dean "Fire In The Dark" (Liberty, 1993)
(Produced by Jimmy Bowen & Billy Dean)

God, what a cheeseball. The romantic arrangements are tacky (the title track is horrible and horribly un-country!) and his voice just ain't that good. Plus he takes himself soo-o-o-ooo seriously! Blechh. Lame. This guy was definitely a minor leaguer. It's mildly funny that he covers James Taylor's faux-blues oldie, "Steam Roller" -- it's amazing, though, that Dean doesn't seem to understand that the song was meant to be a joke. Oh, well.

Billy Dean "Men'll Be Boys" (Liberty, 1994)

Billy Dean "It's What I Do" (Capitol, 1996)

Billy Dean "Real Man" (Capitol, 1998)

Billy Dean "Let Them Be Little" (Curb/Asylum, 2005)

Billy Dean "The Christ (A Song For Joseph)" (Curb/Asylum, 2005)

Billy Dean "...Sings Richard Leigh" (BDMG, 2010)
An homage to the man who wrote "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue." Yikes.

Billy Dean "A Man Of Good Fortune" (Rainman Records, 2012)
(Produced by Ray Barnette & Billy Dean)

In his Top 40 days, country crooner Billy Dean specialized in tinkly-piano romantic ballads, but returning to the fray as an indie artist, he indulges in some fine, good-natured uptempo honkytonk-pop, stuff that wouldn't be out of place on a Dierks Bentley album. It's a surprising, pleasantly rootsy record -- at least on the first half -- with winners like "I Can't Leave A Good Thing" and "Middle Of Nowhere," which puts a slightly new spin on the modern-day country theme of nostalgia for small-town middle America: in Dean's vision, the nostalgia's still there, but he can accept the fact that sometimes some things change. The same goes for us: "I Don't Need As Much Hell To Raise" details the singer's adventures in middle-age, confronting diet and heart disease, but concluding that all is not lost just because you can't eat fast food takeout every day anymore. On the record's second half, he softens up and returns to his old style of mellow romanticism... That'll make old-time fans happy, too. A strong later album from a former young-country star.


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