Friday, February 15, 2008

Butch Walker- Leavin' the Game on Luckie St.

Butch Walker was tired of being mistreated by record companies. Ever since his first band was signed in 1991, he was the victim of record company politics. Although his records found a devoted cult of followers, record companies had no idea how to market him. Now six years into his solo career, Butch Walker is taking a page from Radiohead’s playbook and taking matters into his own hands.

On February 11, Walker posted a blog on his Myspace page telling fans that he was finished putting his music on physical compact discs. Fans would now be getting his music directly through his page on and be able to choose whether they wanted to pay for it or not. It is an ambitious endeavor, but it does it work?

On Valentine’s Day, Walker ushered in the next era of his career by releasing a live record entitled Leavin’ the Game on Luckie Street. Recorded in his hometown of Atlanta, Luckie Street shows Butch Walker in his element. Atlanta has been a Mecca for Walker’s cult since his days in the Marvelous 3, and the crowd and the artist feed off each other. The crowd is with him for every guitar riff, every high note, and every lyric. Walker responds with cover tunes, anecdotes and extended versions of his songs.

Walker finds a nice balance between his recent work and his past. It’s really rewarding to hear a newer song like “The Taste of Red” followed by the Marvelous 3’s “Over Your Head.” Walker handles rockers and ballads with equal aplomb, but the ballads hit dizzying heights. On “Mixtape,” Walker starts out quietly and introspectively, his passion increasing with every verse. The end is an explosion of fury, with Butch and the band bashing out the final notes. After a heartbreaking version of “Stateline,” Walker moves to the piano and performs “Sober,” “Joan” and “Cigarette Lighter Love Song” “Sober” is a revelation on the piano. Initially an anguished break-up song, it is transformed into a reflective lament on lost love.

Leavin’ the Game on Luckie Street would have been a perfect live document, except for a nearly fatal flaw. A live album is supposed to make the listener feel like they are at the show. Walker’s performance achieves this tenfold, but the MP3s don’t. At the end of every song, there is a jarring pause before the next song begins. This isn’t a major problem during the electric songs, but during the acoustic numbers it ruins the vibe. The beginning of “Joan” gets cut off. You hear the first two words and then…..nothing. It destroys the illusion that you are in the crowd.

Butch Walker’s experiment is admirable, but the kinks need to be worked out. If the song breaks weren’t so jarring, it would have been a resounding success. Right now it is just an intriguing idea. Fortunately the music is able to transcend the problems of the format and deliver some great moments. Butch Walker may have gone independent, but he did not leave his game on record company steps.

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