Album Review: Butch Walker – Afraid of Ghosts

Butch Walker has never been one to shy away from his emotions often choosing to use sarcasm and self-deprecation to hide his inner turmoil. Walker has taken a new approach for his seventh studio album, Afraid of Ghosts however, choosing to wear his pain on his sleeve rather than hide it behind veiled lyrics and howling rock. Afraid of Ghosts also marks the first album since 2004’s Letters to feature an outside producer. Walker states that this was because the album just wasn’t working when he attempted to go in and record alone. So he turned to longtime friend Ryan Adams who pushed him to scale down his usually roaring vocals bringing his pain and vulnerability to the surface and creating some of Walker’s best work yet. Walker drew inspiration from some of his and his parents’ favorite artists including Willie Nelson, Elvis, and Creedence Clearwater Revival which can be heard throughout the album’s ten tracks. Afraid of Ghosts feels like a step back in time to alt-country’s heyday stacked to the brim with raw emotion.

The album’s title track opens up the album sets the mood perfectly for the album ahead. It’s a bit of a slow burner relying mostly on guitars and soft pianos under Walker’s lilting vocals. It’s quite possibly one of my favorite tracks on the album, and definitely one of my favorites of 2015 so far. The first single off the album, “Chrissie Hynde” is another highlight of the album. A bleak story from a man driving around town as he listens to The Pretenders before being taken to prison. Walker shows off his storytelling abilities on this track and, like the rest of the album, there are some truly heartbreaking moments. Even as he sings of a better life down the road, our storyteller already knows that it’s too late to be a better husband and father.

“How Are Things, Love?” may or not pickup with our prison bound storyteller from “Chrissie Hynde” as he finishes up his sentence. It’s a track that had me stopping what I was doing when I first heard it so that I could truly listen to it. I love the bluesy feel of the track, the steel guitar adding a greater emotional pull to Walker’s wailing vocals make it another contender for my favorite track on the album. Johnny Depp joins in on guitar for “21+”, a track that focuses on the bartender stuck in a dead end town looking for a way out. “Daddy what will I be if I ever grow up / Can I get out of a town that drowns everything I love? / Come hell or high water gonna leave here when I’m sober / Don’t want to be 21 and over.” Depp kills it on the guitar solo that closes out the track, making the listener feel the frustration and anger coming from our narrator.

There are a lot of different stories on the album but the underlying theme is the loss and grief that Walker is experiencing as he mourns the death of his father. There’s so much emotion in the album that it’s impossible not to get swept up in it all. You can’t listen to Afraid of Ghosts passively, you need to put headphones on and turn the rest of the world off to truly take everything you can from it and you’ll appreciate it more with each listen. For me, it’s hard to move onto other albums for review when all I want to do is immerse myself in this one for the rest of the winter.