George Washington once said, "It's better to offer no excuse than a bad one." Here are three artists that pass Honest George's criterion: they admit it's hard to grow up decent and good—confessionals in the truest sense of owning one's personal sins. Four stars for each of these superb musicians….
The toughest release comes from Matt Butler, whose Reckless Son (NoiseTrade) is the title track and the album's theme. An unabashed post-addiction album, Reckless Sons testifies to the old idea that some people need to scrap bottom before they come up for air. Butler, New York-bred and based, once fronted a post-punk band and engaged in much of the despair associated with punk's hardest edges: drug addiction, alcoholism, homelessness, vagrancy…. Butler is clean these days and has left punk for that folk/country/rock hybrid called "Americana," but he's not ashamed to sing about his substance abuse , lost faith, disappointment, regret, and hurt.
In one of the album's most gut-wrenching songs, "Good Friday," Butler sings of drifting to the street beneath his mother's apartment, longing to enter, but leaving because he knew he wasn't going to get sober. Butler's voice—which is often a sweet high tenor–contains just the right touch of pained punk strain. It makes a fine companion song to the album's opening track, the ironically titled "Home For Good," a song in which Butler uses "my mother's St. Christopher medal hanging 'round my neck" as the elusive dream of an easily derailed homeward redemption: "I meant it every time I said I was coming home for good." Numerous songs speak to the crooked path search for manhood. The central character in "Young Man's Prison" finds himself behind bars at age 17–a bad boy out of control who confuses heedlessness with cries for help. The title track imagines "what it's like to be the father of a reckless son." One of the most admirable traits of Butler's album is a lack of self-pity. The characters in the songs–and Butler admits most are based on him–can't really explain their actions hence (to invoke George Washington), they offer no excuses. This is a very powerful album; don't be scared off by its brutal honesty. The studio band is tight, the melodies are memorable, and Butler's range is impressive. He can be smooth and tender, but he can also bust it in the high and strong range to soar above the mix. He's sometimes compared to Jason Isbell (Drive-By Truckers)—apt, but toss in a little of the kicked-in-the-teeth resiliency of Slaid Cleaves.