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Butch Walker

Sycamore Meadows

(Original Signal; US: 11 Nov 2008; UK: Available as import)

Why isn't this guy famous?

Some of us fans wonder why Butch Walker hasn’t become a major star. Walker’s street smarts and deep emotional intelligence ooze out of his Southern charms making him the thinking man’s Tom Petty. Walker’s adept way of creating epic, literate, rock and roll story songs about everyday life makes him the Georgia Bruce Springsteen. Walker’s grandiose and sordid tales of glam and drugs make him the American David Bowie. These are big names to be compared with, but the fact is, Walker’s talent, charisma, and track record of impressive albums, suggests he belongs in such noble company.


Instead, most people, nay most music fans, haven’t heard Walker’s music. He’s best known as the Svengali behind the dirty-pretty girl, punk pop of Avril Lavigne, Pink, Lindsay Lohan, and Kate Perry. While he’s produced and written some fun hit tunes for these gals, it’s Walker’s own work that really stands out. He’s an idiosyncratic musician to be sure. His latest album cannibalizes and spews out influences as diverse as gospel, glitter, metal, and folk, as well as elements of the aforementioned Petty, Springsteen, and Bowie in new and exciting ways. But that’s what makes Walker so damn good: his willingness to throw everything in the pot to make heartfelt music full of bluster and brains.


The truth is, Walker knows how good he is and is somewhat pompous about himself and bitter about how he has been treated. He jokes about this on the latest record. On the clever and amusing “A Song for the Metalheads” he sings, “When you live in the past / There’s one thing that will last / The resentment that time won’t sit still” before launching into “The record business is fucked / it’s kind of funny.” While it’s usually a mistake to confuse the narrator of a song with its author, Walker’s new album is clearly confessional. The title gets its name from the Malibu street where Walker used to live until wildfires destroyed his house, home studio and all his master recordings.


Walker also sings about his parents, growing up in the suburbs, and memories of Georgia. He makes fun of rednecks and the Southern church as he worships at the altar of rock (“The static singes the speakers like a thousand hymns of inspiration”) as he sings on “Closer to the Truth and Farther from the Sky”, a tune about his early hunger for something more than he could find in the local geography. That doesn’t stop him from loving the memories of the past. He just knows enough to look forward. Perhaps losing everything in a fire will do that to you.


The record is upbeat as a result. “Don’t let the weight of the world bring you down”, he croons on the intro tune, and that sets the tone for what follows. He understands in a world full of heavy lessons, one has to keep things light to keep on moving on. One may not be able to go home again (Walker makes several allusions to Thomas Wolfe on the record), but that doesn’t mean one can’t go back again and learn from what was good: sex, music, good friends, and maybe even love. “Packing up and starting over” may be the central theme here. You don’t have to leave everything behind to keep on going, but you do have to keep on keeping on.

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Steven Horowitz has a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Iowa, where he continues to teach a three-credit online course on "Rock and Roll in America". He has written for many different popular and academic publications including American Music, Paste and the Icon. Horowitz is a firm believer in Paul Goodman's neofunctional perspective on culture and that Sam Cooke was right, a change is gonna come.


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