I caught Butch Walker live at The Sinclair in Cambridge, Massachusetts on the 11th of this month. It was my fourth time seeing him and he was, in a word, brilliant. Which came as no surprise. He’s been impressing me with his knack for super emotive songwriting ever since he was in a little-known hair band called Southgang back when we were both teenagers. And his live performances are always top notch as well. In fact, I’ve seen hundreds of concerts in my lifetime and I can’t think of anyone who puts forth as much energy and passion as Butch does at his shows. Even if you’re not a fan of his music, you’ve got to admit one thing: he never does anything half-assed. He always gives it his all, whether he’s making his own records or producing for other artists like Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, P!nk and Avril Lavigne.
During the show on the 11th, Butch performed a few of the songs from this new EP, explaining that the reason he’s released an EP now instead of waiting to release a new full-length album is that his father was terminally ill and he wanted him to be able to hear the release before he passed. And, yes, the reason I say “was” terminally ill is that, sadly, his father has passed. To that end, Butch assured everyone that he did, in fact, get to hear the EP before his illness cost him his mind during his final days.
Butch’s lyrics have always tugged at my heartstrings and it’s because he wears his own heart on his sleeve, always telling the truth through his words, never sugar-coating anything, even if he sometimes turns his heartache and other sentiments into the sort of uber-catchy songs where you normally wouldn’t expect to find such brutal honesty (see “Mixtape” and “Sober”). Here, his songs pack even more of an emotional punch because he’s singing about his father and his own mortality and we’re hearing them knowing his father is no longer with us.
The EP opens with “I’ve Been Waiting For This,” a raw and gritty tune that would have fit well on his last album with The Black Widows, The Spade. “Nothing can prepare you for the coldness of the fall,” he sings. It’s ironic that a song with such melancholic lyrics is, musically, as infectious as any pop rock tune he’s ever recorded for himself or any other artist. Yes, it’s rough around the edges and has a slight Americana vibe, but the hooks and the harmony are undeniably pop. Blissful pop. That said, the potency of the lyrics is not lost on the listener. The music just makes them a little easier to swallow.
The second song isn’t quite so easy to consume. It’s the title track, “Peachtree Battle,” which is named after a street that obviously played a significant role in Butch’s life in Atlanta, Georgia. Although it is quite beautiful — a pretty, little old school country song, really — Butch’s vocal delivery and guitar playing are wholly sentimental. It’s sure to become a fast favorite among fans who prefer his ballads, such as myself. Nobody does ballads better than Butch Walker. Nobody. “Wherever you are, that’s my home,” he sings and, personally, I find it hard not to tear up.
It’s a relief, then, that the following track, “Favorite Son,” is decidedly more upbeat. “My only son is my favorite one,” he sings and it’s sure to make you crack a smile. Even with a mention of cancer, the lyrics here are somehow uplifting. “The people will talk and they’ll make accusations / And broadcast it louder than radio stations / That you are not like the others at all, all the same,” he sings, a champion for the underdog. For some reason, this song makes me think of the movie The Goonies.
The mid-tempo gem “Coming Home” is a beautiful song that could have been on my favorite Butch Walker album, Letters. Musically and lyrically, it’s very much in that vibe. It tells the stories of various people in unfortunate situations who end up going home accordingly. “I’m coming home / Keep your eyes on the road for me,” he sings with an air of hopefulness about his voice.
Finally, we have the super pensive “Let It Go Where It’s Supposed To,” which falls somewhere between Americana and that style of folk pop that’s become so popular of late. I’m especially fond of the first verse: “I make all my best decisions for the day that lies ahead of me in the morning / I make all the worst decisions in the evening when the poison hits my mind.” I suppose that might sound a bit downtrodden, but the addictive chorus is actually rather inspiring: “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.” You have to give props to Butch for delivering such an exhilarating message at a time in his life when most artists would be locked away in a hotel room surrounded by empty whiskey bottles, doing lines of cocaine off of their last CD, and wallowing in self-pity. But this isn’t the first time Butch has taken his loss and turned it into art, as his widely-praised album Sycamore Meadows was written after he lost all of his possessions in a house fire.
If you have ever heard Butch Walker’s music then you’re probably already a fan, but if you haven’t then I think Peachtree Battle would make a lovely introduction. If you like singer/songwriters like Ryan Adams, Matt Costa, A Fine Frenzy and Joshua Radin then he’s sure to quickly become one of your favorites. Your only problem will be coming up with the money to download his extensive discography.
order on iTunes (out 9/17) smarturl.it/peachtreebattle
pre-order vinyl (out 10/22) smarturl.it/peachtreevinyl