CD Review: Butch Walker and the Black Widows / The Spade
Reviewed by: Ryan Labbe
The end of August might seem late to release the quintessential summer album, but true to their “road less traveled” spirit, Butch Walker and the Black Widows have gone and done it. The Spade, a roll-the-windows-down-and-blast-at-full-volume fun rock album, drops on August 30th, and it is arguably some of Walker’s best work to date. Ten perfectly constructed tracks that incorporate the best of Walker’s repertoire: witty lyrics, jumbo sized hooks, folk sensibility, and enough rock edge to please even the “Play ‘Tainted Angel’!” guy that shows up at the live shows. The Black Widows (Fran Capitanelli and Chris Unck on guitars, and Jake Sinclair on bass) are organic, but refined, and bring their A-game from the first crunchy chords of “Bodegas and Blood” to the raucous close of “Suckerpunch”. Patrick Keeler from The Raconteurs and The Greenhornes lent his drumming skills on the album.
The album’s first single, “Summer of ‘89” is a straight-up rock song about Butch’s younger days playing in bands, and how the years take people down different paths, including musical idols from back twenty years ago who “are playing in bands, or they’re dead.” With big gang vocals singing “Whoa oh” as an intro and between verses, this song is as infectious as anything he’s every written. In the chorus,Walkerlaments, “Can I go back to when I was the winner/Way before the rain came and washed away the sinners/Everyone was something and nothing was done right or wrong.” Lyrically, this doesn’t seem like a song Butch could have written 20 years ago, as it speaks to his experiences over the years.
“Closest Thing to You” is a soulful ballad with a country-western flair. The lyrics are replete with reflection and regret. “So I keep another night by this fire and drink some wine,” sings Walker, “It’s the closest thing to you I’m gonna find.” This is the most subdued track on the album, but in no way brings the energy of the album down. I consider it one of The Spade’s many highlights.
“Dublin Crow” is unlike any other track on the album. It’s an Irish tinged folk song, upbeat and fun as hell to listen to. Fellow Widows not only provide the instrumentation, but also some flawless harmonies. Walkersaid that “Dublin Crow” was the first song they wrote for The Spade, and it was the first song that he previewed for fans online.
“Bullet Belt” gives some insight into the hijinx of Walker’s parents, like smoking pot at Iron Maiden concert and sneaking out of the house to hang with friends, and how Butch is the same way. The song begins with a false start, as the rhythm section start off the song. Bassist Jake Sinclair says he should start it, and provides a thick dirty bass riff to kick the song off for real. It is a balls-out rock song, with Butch singing, “Maybe I’m not that crazy/I’m just playing with the hand I was dealt. Maybe I’m not that crazy/Just a chip off the old bullet belt.”
The final song, “Suckerpunch” is fun, swinging rock ditty about, well, being sucker punched for running his mouth. Lyrically, it’s pretty simplistic, and not typical Butch fare, but the song really is just an excuse to rock out, and showcase a little jam session towards the song’s conclusion.
The Spade has delivered in every way possible. It’s well produced, but still retains rawness and, with some back-and-forth banter between the band members, gives the impression of a really fun recording session. I have nothing negative to say, other than I want more than 10 songs!
From start to finish, The Spade, gives fans every reason keep listening, and never once beckons the listener to skip a track. From the pure pop rock gold of “Every Single Body Else” to the tongue in cheek “Synthesizers” and cynical “Day Drunk”, there is not one note of filler here. One of the stark comparisons to last year’s I Liked it Better When You Had No Heart, Butch’s debut with the Black Widows, is that on The Spade, the band sounds loose, comfortable, and like they’re having fun. Almost as much fun as you will have listening to it.