By Hal Horowitz
Charles Wesley Godwin melds with the expertise of an artist who is unwavering in his approach.
1. Tell the Babies I Love Them (Overture)
2. Family Ties
3. Miner Imperfections
4. The Flood
5. All Again
7. Dance in Rain
8. Another Leaf
9. That Time Again
10. Skyline Blues
11. West of Lonesome
14. Two Weeks Gone
15. Soul Like Mine
16. Willing and Able
17. Cue Country Roads
18. Take Me Home, Country Roads
19. By Your Side (Underture)
It makes sense that John Denver’s 1971 hit ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ would be a show-stopping, crowd-pleasing highlight of Charles Wesley Godwin’s live shows. After all, the lyrics of a traveler who longs to return to his West Virginia home (described as “almost heaven”), where Godwin’s roots and family remain, could have been penned by the man himself 50 years on.
Not only does he cover it on this, the singer/songwriter’s third effort, but he also pens an original titled ‘Cue Country Roads’. That one, with its stomping, swampy groove, kicks into a roaring rocker as the album’s most rugged moment, when he sings “I welcome the day when I’m in mountain mama clay” as his band, The Allegheny High, rumble behind him.
The genesis of this generous 19-song release, his first since 2021s How the Mighty Fall, was difficult. Godwin found himself in a dry spot artistically; under pressure to record an album for a new major label, he was adrift with writer’s block, unable to compose music he was proud of. Then, a conversation inspired him.
“I decided I was going to write about my life and family, to be super personal and dig right into the weeds of my life”. While that might not seem like a unique bolt of lightning concept for an Americana artist, it lit Godwin’s creative fire, culminating in this often stark tapestry of the relatives, or titular Family Ties (wife, father, mother, kids), that keep him focused.
Godwin's baritone voice is rugged and, most importantly, believable, as he spins these tales of friends and relations, all seemingly ripped from the pages of his old photo albums. It’s a ballad-oriented set that's geared towards meticulous, story-telling lyrics.
There's one on his father who worked the mines (“I’m proud of my roots he states in “Miner Imperfection”), while ‘Headwaters’ is a poignant tale of a country boy joining the military, yearning to get back home. Some are heavily influenced by Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska; specifically Godwin’s ‘10-38’, a stripped-down, solo acoustic performance about a New Jersey highway patrolman who stops the wrong car.
Producer Al Torrence, who worked on Godwin’s first two solo sets, returns to keep the sound rootsy, spacious and unencumbered by excess instrumentation. The vibe remains organic, capturing Godwin’s lyrics and melodies without purposefully aiming for commercial radio play. On ‘Willing and Able’, another song about trying to get back to his lover, the music bubbles under as Godwin sings “I’m on a nighttime plane to you / Any train or bus would do”, as a searing pedal steel slices through the atmosphere.
He taps into his Appalachian roots on ‘Another Leaf’, cajoled by the banjo, mandolin, pedal steel and fiddle that basks around him. It chugs along at first, before suddenly throwing the brakes on as they switch into a slow, serious midsection about the difficulties of leaving on tour (“One day, someday, when I pull down the drive, I’ll never turn back”). They raise the tempo once more for it's closing bluegrass stomp, singing “Add another leaf on the family tree tonight” as the band turn up the heat. It’s a mini-suite of sorts, an example of Godwin’s inventive compositional abilities.
This is pure country-folk. Charles Wesley Godwin melds the genres with the expertise of an artist who, like his friend and touring companion Zach Bryan, is unwavering in his approach; encouraging the audience to join him as he traverses the country roads that take him back home.
Charles Wesley Godwin's 2023 album, Family Ties, is out September 22 via Big Loud Records.
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