Butch Walker and the Black Widows: I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart

RIYL: Candy Butchers, Fountains of Wayne, Bryan Adams

Before he became as ubiquitous in the pop/rock music world as Kara DioGuardi and Diane Warren, Butch Walker was so totally cool. He fronted an indie modern rock band called Marvelous 3, a group that put out a few blistering albums of awesome power pop. Then Walker went out on his own and delivered one of the best rock albums of all time in Left of Self-Centered. Naturally, he started to get phone calls from other artists and labels and managers, wanting him to write with, produce and guide artists such as Pink, Bowling For Soup and Avril Lavigne. He also released a few more solo albums along the way. And while nothing measured up to Left of Self-Centered or the Marvelous 3 stuff, Walker has clearly taken two steps backward with his latest, I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart. Maybe it’s because this one comes a little over a year after his latest, Sycamore Meadows, because being that prolific has a tendency to water down the material. In addition, part of the problem here is that while some of the songs seem catchy while you’re listening, you won’t be singing any of them afterward, because they’re not memorable, at least not based on the very high bar Butch has set for himself. There are a few exceptions, like “Stripped Down Version,” which has some slick guitar work and pretty harmonies, or “She Likes Hair Bands,” featuring lyrical snark reminiscent of the Marvelous 3 days. But on the likes of “Trash Day” and “House of Cards,” some of you die-hard Butch fans will be hitting “skip.” And while the closer, “Be Good Til Then,” carries a beautiful sentiment and was written for his very young son, the repetitive melody is more tired than anything Walker has ever delivered. I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart, will, sadly, have Butch fans saying that they liked it better when his songs had heart. (One Haven 2010)

Butch Walker website


Michael Johns: Hold Back My Heart

Nobody ever said you had to win American Idol to have a successful music career. In fact, each year more former contestants are finding a niche for themselves in some corner of the music business. Enter the latest of those, Season 7 alum Michael Johns, who used Idol as a springboard not just for popularity, but as a means to finally make the kind of music he wants—blue-eyed soul. Johns had been down the rock road before, his Australian roots bringing comparison to the late Michael Hutchence, among others. But it was when a phone call from his mom prompted Johns to follow his true passion, which was to sing the music he grew up on, and his path had suddenly been set out before him. Several years later, Johns has delivered a solid Downtown Music debut, Hold Back My Heart, with many of the songs being Johns’ co-writes with Dave Cobb. Falling somewhere between the music of his idols Otis Redding and Sam Cook and the sappy soul of guys like James Morrison, Johns has discovered a middle ground that could absolutely launch his career to lofty heights—though nothing is guaranteed in today’s music business. Coincidentally, the opening (and best) track was a song Morrison had a hand in, “Heart on My Sleeve.” Other standouts are the aching ballads “Fools Gold” and Heart is Weak” (the latter written by Diane Warren) as well as the bluesy boogie of “Little Bear.” As impressive as it is, though, Hold Back My Heart falls short of being a home run, but leaves plenty of room for growth. (LABEL: Downtown)

Michael Johns MySpace Page