Sunday, November 23, 2008

Review: Butch Walker - Sycamore Meadows (* * * *)

Butch Walker's list of production and writing credits is about a mile long. Working with artists like Avril Lavigne, Fall Out Boy, and Pink, Walker has established a reputation (which includes Rolling Stone's 2005 Producer of the Year) that has allowed him to pursue his own career as a solo artist. His latest release, Sycamore Meadows, is named after the street in Malibu where Walker's house and studio (including all of his master recordings) were destroyed by wildfires last November. The album is a poignant and introspective collection of tunes, several of which address the loss and the fire directly.

Sycamore Meadows is a classic singer/songwriter record, one focused on well-written, relatable lyrics and bright, enjoyable melodies rather than pushing musical boundaries. "The Weight Of Her," "Closer To The Truth And Further From The Sky," and "Vessels" are solid pop-rock songs for highway driving, while "Going Back/Going Home," "ATL," and "Ships In A Bottle" are pensive and emotional ballads. It's everything you'd expect from Walker, with spot-on production behind cleverly told stories, but the album feels exceptionally personal, almost uncomfortably so as his narratives swing from reactions to the fire to losing his virginity to longing for his hometown. While occasionally a little awkward, his openness and honesty is refreshing and compelling.

At 60 minutes in length, the record somehow never feels long or overblown thanks to Walker's ability to cover a variety of topics and musical styles (pop, rock, folk, country) without getting carried away. His generous talent and experience coupled with his personal approach makes Sycamore Meadows an album easy to appreciate and enjoy.

Favorite Tracks: "The Weight Of Her," "The 3 Kids In Brooklyn," "ATL"

Butch Walker's MySpace