CD Review of Sycamore Meadows by Butch Walker
Recommended if you like
The Damnwells, Cheap Trick, Fountains of Wayne
Label
Original Signal
Butch Walker:
Sycamore Meadows

Reviewed by Mike Farley

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B
utch Walker has been making music for a couple of decades now, and if you thought his career peaked with the transition from his former band, Marvelous 3, into his solo career about nine years ago, you’re in for a surprise. Walker’s latest, Sycamore Meadows, is the best work since his solo debut, Left of Self-Centered, and it may even be better than that one. His releases between those two albums were not bad, though not up to the high standards Butch fans have come to expect. Maybe that’s because his day job of producing artists like Katy Perry, Pink and the Automatic had sapped much of his energy, or maybe it’s because he needed a life-changing experience to spark some creative genius again (Walker lost his SoCal house in a November 2007 wildfire). Whatever the reason, Butch is back, and he’s back in a huge way.

Maybe the best part about Walker is that he’s never really cared what the record execs say. You know, the ones who think they know the formula for a hit song and try and mold a guy who writes great pop/rock into a Gavin DeGraw-meets-Nickelback sort of radio hybrid. Walker knows that formula is not the key to artistic integrity (though he’s good at it for his day job), nor is it what most fans want at the end of the day. Now he’s on a smaller indie label, Original Signal, who have clearly given Butch the freedom to write the great songs he’s capable of.

Butch Walker

Right from the start, "The Weight of Her" is the kind of sugary yet edgy pop that Walker fans have come to love him for, and the kind of, um, formula, that has made acts like Fountains of Wayne successful. "Going Back/Going Home" is a melancholy look back at Walker losing his house and moving back to Atlanta – and sad or not, the melody of this one is going to stick in your head until 2010. "Here Comes the Heartache," featuring some nice backing vocals from Pink, is timeless pop bliss, as is the horn-infused "Ponce De Leon Ave." Of course, Walker’s trademark wit is evident on tracks such as "Closer to the Truth and Further from the Sky" and "A Song for the Meatheads." But if you’ve ever seen him live, you know that when he turns down the volume and gives you a ballad or two, such as on "Ships in a Bottle" or "Summer Scarves," the guy is just money. However, as good as those numbers are, the best track of all is the stunning closer, "ATL." This song, just Butch and his piano, is the most painfully pretty thing he’s ever written.

Try as the music industry may to manufacture a guy like Butch Walker, they can’t even come close. The good thing is that an artist doesn’t need a major label these days to reach fans effectively, especially if they have had some prior success like Walker has. If you’d lost a bit of faith in him, or if you were busy trying to find other great acts, it’s okay to come back to Butch the way he came back to Atlanta – because you just have to.

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