Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Album Review: Butch Walker Reflects On Life, Death With "Peachtree Battle"

Butch Walker's 10+ year solo career has seen him release albums like clockwork every couple of years.  So, naturally, he was due to treat his fans to yet another addition to his body of work in this second half of 2013.

However, the timing of his latest release, Peachtree Battle, was based more on some monumental life events for the singer-songwriter than any record company's schedule.

In interviews he did prior to the release of the album, Walker indicated that this album was pushed along to be completed before the death of his father, who passed away August 21.  The result is a collection of five songs that are, dare I say, true music-as-an-art. 

It's kind of weird to use the term "music-as-an-art" because, sort of by definition, music is an art.  But, unlike much of what is spewed from commercial radio in today's "We Can't Stop/We Won't Stop" world where formulaic hits are written in a paint-by-numbers, assembly line fashion, these Walker tunes are not products.  These Walker tunes are not bridges between commercials.  These Walker tunes are not attempts to one-up the hottest pop production out there.

Peachtree Battle is emotion set to melody and rhythm.  Peachtree Battle is poetry.  Peachtree Battle is a journey through the life and mind of an artist dealing with the unwanted but inevitable, and perhaps trying to inspire others to do the same with equal grace.

The album begins with "I've Been Waiting For This," a song with such an infectious melody that you're singing right along with it within 10 seconds.  Lyrically touching on family memories, death, and, presumably, some autobiographical matters, this song sets the stage for what's to come.

By the second song, "Peachtree Battle," it becomes clear that Walker has reinvented his musical style yet again.  The style of this song squeezes itself comfortably between the radio-ready Americana of Philip Philips and the raw honesty of a Nashville street performer.  While his previous release, The Spade, saw Walker refamiliarize himself with slightly fuzzed-up guitar-driven rock, there are more nods to stripped-down, swampy southern influences than to the echoes of Cheap Trick heard on The Spade.

"Favorite Son" offers a now almost-obligatory funkier Walker song before the real gems of the album:  "Coming Home" and "Let It Go Where It's Supposed To."   

"Coming Home" features a big, dramatic chorus and has as its poignant theme the wrapping up of life, with lyrics such as "Tell Momma and Dad that I know they cared/My wife and son there's a box upstairs/With his three initials on it/If he should ever come upon it/There's a note saying everything my mouth can't say/To take a look in the driveway for the lights, 'cause one day...I'm coming home."

The mood of the album could not be brought to a more satisfying conclusion than it is with "Let It Go Where It's Supposed To" - a song about dealing with what is meant to be in life.  While the anthemic pre-Carrie-Underwood-country chorus drives the song, the highlight again is the paternal message in the lyrics:  "Let it go where it's supposed to/Let your life hang out the window to dry/And if it catches the wind, and you never see it again/Then I guess it was probably time."

While Butch Walker's loss could have understandably put the album on the back burner, its release within a month of the death of the elder Walker almost sends a message in and of itself:  life is short, so don't delay expressing your love to those around you and leave a legacy to all who care.  Whether Butch Walker goes on to release albums every two years for the next four decades or this is his last, with Peachtree Battle, he has given the music world a beautiful piece of art that serves as a fitting tribute to his father and a timeless inspiration to his fans.