Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
You’re never quite sure which Butch Walker is going to show up on a new album.
Is it the tough pop rocker?
The brash hard rocker?
The strutting glam rocker?
Or last year’s tender, introspective folkie?
On his eighth studio release, it’s a combination of none and all of the above.
The Atlanta bred Walker takes a side trip to New Jersey and delivers a perfectly acceptable hard rocking Bruce Springsteen/Southside Johnny inspired set of rugged urban rock. He even titles one heavily boss styled song “East Coast Girl” although the talking sections that appear between the choruses seem cribbed from Tom Petty’s “Here Comes My Girl.” And “Wilder in the Heart” sounds like the name of a Springsteen B side as it borrows from Phil Spector and adds accordion to a track that reverberates with the drama of a great single waiting to happen.
But where others would be indicted for simply pilfering from obvious sources, Butch Walker’s music feels honest and unpretentious. Whether it’s Petty, Bon Jovi, Springsteen or Mellencamp, every tune on Stay Gold seems to reference an established Americana icon. Regardless, Walker is such a pro you’re swept up in his good intentions and hooks that reach out and grab ahold. Perhaps we could do without one too many tunes about pining for some pretty young thing that’s either out of reach or broken up with him as in “Mexican Coke,” “Spark:Lost,” and the intriguingly titled “Can We Just Not Talk About Last Night?” Still, Walker delivers these heartland rockers with all the grit, grime and genuine spirit of a singer/songwriter comfortable in his skin, even if that skin might look like someone else’s from afar.
And when he connects on a Stones-like gem on the title track or invites Ashley Monroe for an enthusiastic duet on “Descending,” a ballad as powerful and moving as any he has penned, you’ll just go with the flow and appreciate the sheer songcraft of a journeyman who could probably release an album as solid as this every year without breaking a sweat.