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And Bentley figures that the cyclical nature of music just might come around to Burleson, just as it did with another act Reprise Records has worked with. Burleson reminds him of Dwight Yoakam -- a man no label wanted a piece of in the early 1980s, when he was just a struggling Kentucky boy playing punk-rock clubs in Los Angeles, hoping to get noticed. Labels ignored Yoakam for years, forcing him to release his first EP on a tiny local label before Reprise signed him in 1984.
"As country music changed a little bit, they totally embraced [Yoakam], and the rest is history," Bentley says. "I'm hoping that Ed can have that same effect. I think Dwight helped change country music back a little bit from its excesses of the late '70s and early '80s. I think country music is at a place where it could get a little simpler and more real. I think they've taken it in the other direction about as far as they can. I really believe it just takes one visionary to start a movement, if you look at the history of music. And I really believe country music is going to change. It might not be for a year or two or three, or who knows? I just feel like as more people like Ed come out, that movement's going to get bigger."
Meanwhile, Burleson is still playing the beer joints, and the folks in Nashville have yet to buy into this particular real deal. Sowders has sent tapes of Burleson to friends and business associates in Nashville. All have told him the same thing: great songs, but the kid's too...well...too country.
No matter how many times one hears the punch line, it still elicits a laugh of astonishment.
"Too country for the home of country music?" Sowders says, his voice filled with ironic sarcasm. "It's like saying of the Rolling Stones, 'Well, it's a little too rock and roll.' I think that's the point there, fellows. But that's all right. We'll get there."