Album Review: Butch Walker – Afraid of Ghosts

By on Monday, 9th February 2015 at 1:00 pm
 

Butch Walker Afraid of Ghosts coverAmerican singer/songwriter Butch Walker has a long and renowned list of music achievements behind him, including Grammy and CMA nominations, production credits for artists like Fall Out Boy, Keith Urban and Taylor Swift, and six previous studio albums of his own. But the impression left by his seventh LP release ‘Afraid of Ghosts’ is perhaps more reflective of his personal experiences than his professional ones. The album features several songs written in tribute to Walker’s late father, who passed away in 2013, and even the songs outside that theme have the jaded air of a man with a past.

Produced by Ryan Adams at his PaxAm Studios in Los Angeles, the alt-country flavor of ‘Afraid of Ghosts’ has a distinct rock ‘n’ roll edge. Outstanding track ‘Father’s Day’ features a stunning guitar solo by the legendary Bob Mould, who asked to play it after hearing the lyrics and relating them to the loss of his own father. Actor Johnny Depp’s surprising guitar prowess is displayed on ‘21+’, and the album’s first single ‘Chrissie Hynde’ is an internal reflection on the past, mentally soundtracked by the Pretenders’ b-side ‘My City Was Gone’.

‘How Are Things, Love’ is another look back in time, this one a bitter rumination on a past love. The slow, staggering tempo is suggestive of a smoky bar just before closing time, but its jarring lurch makes a solid emotional impact. The visceral effect of the instrumental arrangement underscores the cynical, mocking lyrics, “How are things, love? / Did you get rid of the ring, love? / Do you ever think of me, love? / I do all of the above, love / I hope you’re well”. By contrast, ‘Bed on Fire’ is dark, sultry, and aggressively sensual, with a wailing guitar solo accenting Walker’s husky vocals. Its terse chorus, “gonna take you down, on my knees, make that sound, make you see, …” is both vaguely threatening and undeniably erotic, though the contrast of emotions isn’t quite matched in the song’s accompanying video.

[youtube]http://youtu.be/Zk_df_upvd0[/youtube]

Current single ‘Autumn Leaves’ is a masterful and emotionally evocative bit of songwriting that displays Walker’s deft and experienced touch. Its chugging tempo and bright piano melody turn out to be a façade, and the opening lines “well I was never good at picking what to wear / for somebody else / this dress will go good with her hair” make a delayed but forceful impact as the lyrical story reveals itself to be about losing a loved one to cancer.

Walker revisits the loss of his father one last time on final track ‘The Dark’. His unadorned singing echoes over the warm tone and gently rocking rhythm of the acoustic guitar, and the understated lyrics “ain’t running from nothing / nothing on my mind / into the black / with my father at my side” somehow speak volumes in only a very few words.

Clearly written from the perspective of having reached a certain age, ‘Afraid of Ghosts’ will burn slowly in the hearts of listeners who can relate to the experiences it describes. The authentic and unadulterated sentiment found on the album could easily have become maudlin or oversimplified in the hands of lesser musicians, but Walker has used his professional expertise to full advantage here, carefully honing the subtleties of his country rock sound to represent a full and honest range of emotions.

8/10

‘Afraid of Ghosts’ is available now on Lojinx Records.

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