Afraid of Ghosts is the seventh album from singer-songwriter and producer Butch Walker. For this album, Butch handed production duties over to Ryan Adams, and there is a real feel of Adam’s Love Is Hell (my favourite Ryan Adams album) in the sound of the finished record.
Opening with the title track, a slow-burning song that ends on a moving guitar solo, it sets the mood for the rest of the album. The main riff on “I Love You” reminds me a little of Peter Gabriel‘s “Solsbury Hill,” and that’s a good thing! “I Love You” really gets under your skin – you will find yourself humming the chorus for days on end after hearing the song.
The soft country lilt of “Chrissie Hynde” is an early highlight of the album, and if you can stop your sobbing long enough (yeah, I know, sorry), then the mood lifts a little with the warmly reflective “Still Drunk.” Butch is a great storyteller, and like Bruce Springsteen, has the knack for making the characters that live within his songs come to life. “Still Drunk” is a sparse arrangement, just vocals, guitar and reverb-drenched piano, but that’s all the song needs to move you.
“How Are Things, Love” sonically references bygone eras and would not sound out of place in the soundtrack of a David Lynch film sung by Roy Orbison. “Bed On Fire” is a tale of raw but seemingly unrequited passion. The guitar and strings workout towards the end adds to the drama, and makes “Bed On Fire” one of Walker’s finest songs, up there with “Mixtape”,” Best Thing You Never Had” and “ATL”.
“21+” is a song of regret, sung from the viewpoint of a lost soul trapped in a job and a town with little chance of escape. With a nagging, addictive piano riff and powerful outro, if you are a fan of Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, you will surely love this track.
“Autumn Leaves” was written about a friend’s deep loss. The harmonies towards the end of the song take it to another level, and the song ends too soon, which is perhaps appropriate given the inspiration behind the track.
“Father’s Day” was written shortly after Butch’s father passed away. Featuring Bob Mould from Hüsker Dü on backing vocals and explosive guitar, it’s an understandably raw song and a powerful performance.
The album closes with “The Dark,” with Butch singing about riding on his favourite bike, his father at his side. It may be a sad song, underpinned by a subtle, mournful synth line, but “The Dark” hints at a feeling of escape and optimism as the album comes to a close.
Although the songs that make up Afraid of Ghosts came together over a long period of time, the album was recorded in four days at Ryan Adam’s PAX-AM studios in LA. This short timescale, coupled with the analogue, pro-tools free production, gives the album continuity and a mood that serves the songs so well. Afraid of Ghosts feels like the album Butch Walker was born to make. Afraid of Ghosts will be released on February 3, 2015 on Dangerbird Records.