Butch Walker, ‘Afraid of Ghosts’ – Album Review
I’ve been a fan of Butch Walker for 18 years now. I could talk for hours about why the new Butch Walker album, 'Afraid of Ghosts,' sounds the way it does. It would be no stretch for me to over-analyze every note and compare every song to another track on a previous album. We could talk Southgang and Marvelous 3, and discuss his family, his marriages, his kid, the house fire, and how the death of his father played a role in the sound of the new record. We could debate if he "sold out” or just found his voice.
I could write a college thesis on Butch Walker. However, regardless of whatever pretty words I use, the fact is this: 'Afraid of Ghost' sounds the way it does because Butch Walker wanted it to. Period.
Walker has never been known to play the game. On the coattails of a self-made and highly successful career as a producer, he’s allotted himself the freedom to do whatever he wants, musically speaking. Free from the pressure of writing a “radio hit,” Walker has allowed himself a liberty that few artists experience.
He does what he wants.
As a person who has been an enabler of the whole of his solo career, 'Afraid of Ghosts' is the best Walker has ever been.
While Walker’s “do as I please” mentality allowed him the freedom to explore himself musically, the results often left his albums feeling like a mishmash of different sounds. 'Afraid of Ghosts' possesses something that's been missing from the Butch Walker catalog since 1998's 'Hey! Album' by Marvelous 3 ... it actually functions as an album.
From the record's ardent title track, to the aptly named closer, 'The Dark,' Walker wanders through his abilities as a songwriter. Borrowing a page from album producer Ryan Adams’ playbook, Walker’s Americana is not only believable but beautifully authentic.
Walker has always been able to turn a phrase, and his ability to wordsmith is not lost on the latest effort. If anything, the dialed-back, acoustic-meets-piano structure of the LP highlights a lyrical understanding that has always been present, but often buried beneath a layer of rock and roll sounds. During those rare moments that lacked clutter, Walker was a real poet, wasn’t he? Remember 'Joan' from 'Letters'?
'Afraid of Ghosts' is an entire collection of that brilliance. Walker allows himself the vulnerability to sit alone within a stripped-down sound and just preach. The results are immaculate.
The album’s title track confesses, “There’s a man who dips his feet in holy water / So he throws the rest of his body in / Say it will take more than wading, to keep the memories from fading / I’m at least up to my neck in sin.” The track builds around Walker’s conversational approach to coming to terms with ghosts, with haunting accordion and heartbreaking piano placed underneath the monologue.
'Afraid of Ghosts' sets up the album flawlessly.
'I Love You' gathers a vintage, southern-radio sound. 'Chrissie Hynde' pulls everything back and lets the story take the spotlight. Walker finds his Springsteen voice on 'Still Drunk.' 'Bed on Fire' expands Walker’s resume to give bands like Avett Brothers and Civil Wars a run for their money. Track for track, 'Afraid of Ghosts' offers perfection.
While the lifelong fan in me hopes for another 10 albums from Walker, if unexpectedly he would choose to walk away from music today, 'Afraid of Ghosts' would be one hell of a swan song. In the end, the only person who knows what’s next for Walker, is Butch himself.