Friday, February 21, 2014

Album review: Brad Butcher

I meant to review Brad Butcher’s debut album weeks ago. Perhaps even months ago. But I found I couldn’t stop listening to it long enough to work out what I actually wanted to say about it. Now, I’ve forced myself away – reluctantly.

At very first, shallow listening, this album seemed to have musical echoes of Jack Johnson and Pete Murray – and I’m not a huge fan of either artist so I was close to abandoning ship. But then a few bars of Butcher's voice made me realise that he is his own man and his own songwriter, and this album is his alone. If anything, the clue to his real influence lies in his choice of a Bruce Springsteen song to cover (‘I’m on Fire’), its echo found in the bridge of ‘The Old Man’s Gone’, which is just one of several unforgettable songs on this album.

Butcher tells stories about life, death, ageing, families and towns. He tells those stories from the heart yet he isn’t mawkish or falsely sentimental. When he performs ‘The Old Man’s Gone’ live, he says he wrote it for his niece when he heard that her father – his brother – was getting divorced. That story can certainly be identified within the lyrics, but as with all great storytellers Butcher has found a way to write the story so that it resonates with other people. The opening track, ‘Pipe Song’, is so much more than its prosaic title suggests – it is about choosing life over death, and sometimes death over life, and how to live in between those points. ‘There You Are’ muses – but not too long – on the role fate plays in our relationships with those we hold most dear.

The overall tone of this album is reflective and slightly melancholy, but there is a lot of joy on it as well. And always, always, Butcher sounds as though he is singing to a listener, not to a microphone – he has found a way to connect without knowing at all who is going to be ‘out there’ listening to his songs. Moreover, Butcher’s diction is so crystalline that the rough edges you think you hear on his voice are just a characteristic of his singing style – they in no way obliterate the words he sings or their meaning. This is a performer who has taken care documenting his songs – the courtesy he shows to the listener is there in every note.

Great songwriting, like all great art, is alchemy – it is impossible to tease out the parts of it and identify exactly how those parts joined together to make the impressive whole. Sometimes the alchemy happens because of the voice that sings the songs. I have listened to the songs on this album over and over and cannot work out exactly why they’re so different and so appealing and why they find their mark every single time, no matter how often I've listened to them. All I can presume is that Butcher is a kind of genius, and he has found a way to marry his songs and his voice in just the right way, either arriving at it intuitively or through hard work or, more likely, both. The album is definitely worth your time, and Brad Butcher should definitely make another one soon.   

Brad Butcher is out now, through Vitamin Records

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