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


Freedy Johnston: Rain on the City

RIYL: Better Than Ezra, Counting Crows, David Mead

Freedy Johnston has been riding a small wave stemming from his mid-90’s alt-pop/modern rock hit “Bad Reputation,” from his major label debut This Perfect World. At the time, Johnston’s music could be found alongside the likes of the Gin Blossoms, Hootie and the Blowfish, and Better Than Ezra in retail stores and radio, and it fit nicely. That also was a high point for Johnston, because he continued to release a few more albums on Elektra, but never quite matched the magic of This Perfect World. The good news for his fans, though, is that Johnston has continued to make music and tour – and 2009 found him back with his original label, independent Bar/None, to release Rain on the City, Johnston’s first album of new original material in eight years. On this effort, Johnston still has hints of what made him popular a decade and a half ago, but the songs are a notch below that material, and his voice is a tad scratchier and more weathered. That isn’t to say this is bad stuff; it’s nice, and the title of the album is perfect for some of what you might call Johnston’s “rainy day” mood music – especially on the title track, as well as on “Lonely Penny” and “The Devil Raises His Own.” He also rocks a bit on the too-truthful “Don’t Fall in Love with a Lonely Girl” and offers up his take on lounge music with “The Kind of Love We’re In.” Rain on the City is a good album by anyone’s standards – but while Freedy Johnston has certainly earned the right to make his living making music, his days of making magic may be a decade or so behind him. (Bar/None 2010)

Freedy Johnston MySpace Page


Dexter Freebish: The Best of (The Other Side)

Dexter Freebish was one of those dot com-era bands that bridged a gap between alt-pop powerhouses that were slowly fading (think Toad the Wet Sprocket or Hootie) and those that were embracing their independence like never before (The Clarks, Better Than Ezra). There simply isn’t ever a place on any musical timeline where good, melodic pop/rock doesn’t have a place, and this five-piece Texas band is proof of that. Dexter Freebish released two albums beginning with 2000’s A Life of Saturdays, which included their John Lennon Songwriting Contest entry, “Leaving Town.” But after breaking up in 2005, lead singer Kyle (who mysteriously has no last name) and the rest of the band got back together for some shows, and found out there is still a market for their catchy fare. EA Sports, along with a publishing arm of Nettwerk Music, decided to release this greatest hits collection, The Best Of (The Other Side), including four new tracks, and history is being made before your very eyes, or something. The big “hits” are all here, including “Leaving Town,” “Prozak” (which actually WON the John Lennon contest) and “Higher,” and some of the newer stuff is pretty decent, in particular the stunning piano ballad “Walk on Water.” For the most part, Dexter Freebish is a decent band with nice, hooky songs, but they aren’t going to keep tastemakers up at night figuring out who heard them first. (LABEL: Electronic Arts)

Dexter Freebish MySpace Page