Album Review
Butch Walker - Sycamore Meadows Album Cover

Butch Walker - Sycamore Meadows

Reviewed by
Butch Walker - Sycamore Meadows
Record Label: Original Signal/R.E.D. Distribution
Release Date: November 11, 2008
For every big city, there is nearly always a voice present to capture its wide-eyed wonderment, its celebratory cause and the jubilant bark of street-side pencil-pushers simply working for the weekend (there’s my Loverboy reference – count it!).

New Jersey has the almighty Bruce Springsteen; Greenwich Village had the vivacious purr of Bob Dylan; even San Francisco had the psychedelic chants of Jerry Garcia. If every city has its own form of a curbside prophet, then Atlanta has Butch Walker to graciously warm their ears with songs that identify the little guy from Cartersville and star-struck optimist burnt out from vapid Hollywood fashionistas in all of us.

Sycamore Meadows is Walker’s fourth official solo release, and the care & effort put into its conception is devastatingly evident. Not to say it is a bad thing, because in all essence, this album chronicles an aspect of honesty not many musicians in the pop world dare to reveal. “Going Back/Going Home” has a breakdown of Walker’s own life until now that’s a little bit country and a little bit hip-hop. Coming from the guy who has co-written hits for Avril Lavigne, Pink and Lindsey Lohan, it’s perplexing how his own personal genius hasn’t been demonstrated as effectively there as it does on his own work, dropping the glossy production for a down-to-earth sound.

Quiet and domineering in a way only a master of his work can be, the album may not stack up to 2004’s Letters in terms of melodic quality, however the personal lashings that flow from Walker’s cup are exhibited in beautiful form on “ATL,” a ballad only Walker could have written ("Let your sweaty embrace open wide / ‘Cause Atlanta, I’m suffocating like some people do / and I need all your air to survive"). Like the richly satisfying hidden track from Letters, “Stateline,” the song is exceptionally written, performed and another straw in the hat for Walker, who must save the best parts for himself.

“The Weight of Her” and “Ponce De Leon Ave.” are two of the disc’s more raucous numbers, picking up a bit of an E Street vibe when rolling through the circus of instruments weaving in and out of each song. There are parallels Walker holds with Springsteen in terms of career trajectory, even if he isn’t nearly as mainstream as Springsteen has remained (influence, however, is a much different story). Both artists have seemingly ditched (for lack of a better word) their rock-heavy material for more intimate recordings & songs that tell stories about people and their own hometowns, love lives, etc. Alternating between rambunctious party-starters and eloquent ballads glancing back on life lost, it might be slightly presumptuous to say that Walker could very well be this generation’s Boss. With gentle yet haunting numbers like “Vessels” and mid-tempo rhythms such as “Ships in a Bottle,” there’s no denying the effect Walker can have on the senses, tingling every nerve with aggressive lyrical integrity and soulful vocal touchdowns.

Production-wise, the album is scarcely littered with much more than guitars, bass, drums and piano – it’s a simple orchestration without too much chaos and flooding to drown the listener in sound. The album’s sole intent is to keep it confidential, as a secret between Walker & the listener themselves. “Summer Scarves” and “Here Comes The…” have moments of limp-wristed candor that swerve in directions the other songs avoid, courtesy of technical stoppages such as the oddly-placed bass drum beats. The lyrics are largely scattered with references to the common misogynistic ways musicians tend to experience at one time or another (sex, drugs and rock & roll – a.k.a. the usual), however it’s told through a perspective of Walker to recall what it has made him and where he has wound up today (and the subsequent toll others have paid through similar circumstances). “While a kid in the corner becomes a savant /No one will care till he’s dead,” he croons on “A Song for the Metalheads”. “Or he falls from his grace with it all over the place / and a piece of it stuck in his head.”

Singing about the fake attitude some give off when it comes to a “cool” locale to call your hometown: “Nobody’s really from here, they just all pretend that’s what they’ve been about,” he howls on “The 3 Kids in Brooklyn”. “That one kid left in Atlanta… / Fuck this place, I’m getting out.”

Named after the neighborhood Walker lived & worked in Malibu before his home burned to the ground, Sycamore Meadows translates to an album of shifting one’s individual focus and regaining the strength to live another day without any challenges keeping you sore. It can hurt, you can bleed… but you still remain; you are still alive.

That is Walker’s intent, to describe the triumph of being able to live through the worst and retain the personal rewards that make breathing so easy. Paul Simon once sang, “Every generation sends a hero up the pop charts.” In a way, Walker has already been there through other bands & musicians. For many of us, he is the voice on the top that we need to know music is still alive & well, no matter how long the fire has continued to burn.

Recommended if You LikeBruce Springsteen's Darkness on the Edge of Town; Jesse Malin's Glitter in the Gutter; Tom Petty's Wildflowers; John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band.
Choice Cuts"ATL," "Going Back/Going Home" and "Ships in a Bottle"

Band MembersButch Walker: vocals/guitars/bass/piano
Greg Leisz: guitar
Darren Dodd & Matt Chamberlain: drums
Track Listing1. The Weight of Her
2. Going Back/Going Home
3. Here Comes The...
4. Ponce De Leon Ave.
5. Ships in a Bottle
6. Vessels
7. Passed Your Place, Saw Your Car, Thought of You
8. The 3 Kids in Brooklyn
9. Summer Scarves
10. A Song for the Metalheads
11. Closer to the Truth and Further From the Sky
12. ATL
13. Untitled Hidden Track

Online VitalsOfficial Site | Official Myspace
PurchaseAmazon MP3
This review is a user submitted review from smoke4thecaper. You can see all of smoke4thecaper's submitted reviews here.
Displaying posts 1 - 15 of 47
05:55 AM on 11/21/08
I just need reassurance.
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Shakriel's Avatar
Really liking this album; great review.
06:06 AM on 11/21/08
Registered User
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M-House's Avatar
closer to the truth/further from the sky is my favorite track on the album, and i am yet to see it mentioned in one review yet.
07:14 AM on 11/21/08
Australian Music Roundup
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timb89's Avatar
i hate untitled hidden tracks, they just burn my ipod
07:25 AM on 11/21/08
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loveisdead's Avatar
Nice review man, I gotta check this out.
07:54 AM on 11/21/08
Say Ocean.
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Say Ocean.'s Avatar
One of the best reviews I've read on the site. Great job, great album.
08:18 AM on 11/21/08
In December, drinkin' Horchata
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SwishMX48's Avatar
Did want. Now need.

Great review, can't wait to pick this up after work.
08:45 AM on 11/21/08
Stage three has begun.
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SLoT's Avatar
I like this album, but it gets sluggish near the end for me. I'm going to have to give it another spin. Nice review though I enjoyed.
09:03 AM on 11/21/08
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No Avatar Selected
What a review! I have been a fan of Butch for over ten years, and he just keeps getting better. His music may shift, his direction may change...but he is still that honest, heartfelt incredible musician that makes amazing music.
09:05 AM on 11/21/08
sell the sunris
..is Batman
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sell the sunris's Avatar
Excellent review. Excellent album. Really wish Walker'd get more props for his music. A fact even Entertainment Weekly brought up in their positive review. Glad to know I'm not the only one who feels this way.
09:23 AM on 11/21/08
Gregory Robson
Under Rug Swept
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Gregory Robson's Avatar
Really well written. Solid write-up. I think you hit on it exactly. Not quite "Letters" but charming and efficient, if not more mature in some aspects. Good work, bro.
09:28 AM on 11/21/08
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combatchuckaa's Avatar
That was some first-rate writing. Nice review!
09:32 AM on 11/21/08
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sweetforever's Avatar
Very well written review. I think ATL is slowly becoming one of my favorite Butch songs, it's soo good.
09:45 AM on 11/21/08
Dorsey / Andy
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midtown4657's Avatar
you sold me with the springsteen and jesse malin RIYL's. but should i start elsewhere in his catalog?
10:03 AM on 11/21/08
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Great review. Good job at the Springsteen parallels. This album reeks of him. Butch has named dropped him a bunch over the course of his promo interviews.

Not sure if Darkness if the right album to suggest however. I think sonically it sounds more like early 90's bruce, but it would take a lot of balls to tell someone to go listen to those albums.

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