Lead off your album with the right song, and I’m on board for the full ride. Tell me a story, show me what you’ve got musically, but don’t give it all away. Charles Wesley Godwin does just that at the beginning of his second album, How the Mighty Fall. I’m engaged from track one, but he waits to reveal all of his storytelling gifts.
That first song? “Over Yonder” begins with just Godwin’s acoustic guitar and dusty backroad voice before pedal steel, a rugged fiddle line and Rosanna Spindler’s harmonies come in. The song itself, images from life in what could be Godwin’s West Virginia home, are just the beginning of the storytelling to come – lines like “Things got wicked when she’d cry” and “I’m living dying by the pen” hint at a hardscrabble, and probably relatively short, life.
While Godwin’s first record, Seneca, was more personal in nature, on How the Mighty Fall he considers bigger, more holler-centric stories. “Lyin’ Low,” a mid-tempo, fiddle-driven tune, describes a father who’s happy to have his wilder days behind him – “I’m doing just fine keeping my mind, a dollar ain’t a worry of mine.” Having already lived his indiscretions, the narrator is all too wary of backsliding – “If I keep running with the masses I’ll find myself in an early casket.” “Temporary Town” has Godwin returning home to West Virginia, his acoustic accompanied by brushed percussion, after too much time in the Midwest – “I’m all burnt out on heartland skies” and ready to embrace the solitude and sanity found in the hills: “Ancient blue ridges are just like big ol’ fences/Shelter from the world keeping senseless at a distance.”
What would an album of good storytelling be without broken hearts? “Jesse” has plenty of the former, with the songwriter seeing a piece of lovelorn graffiti under a bridge and painting a full story from it – “Swore you’d love Jesse until you’re dead/But only so much that you wrote it in red.” And “Lost Without You” is that kind of sad country song with a house empty of love and full of regret – “I beg for what’s not mine wishing we had more time.”
Godwin brings out the very best of old-school storytellin’ in “Blood Feud,” a barn burner full of dueling guitars, steel, organ and fiddle and bad omens like “I didn’t leave my house dressed to die.” And then there’s the true country epic, “Gas Well,” which kicks off with a killer first line – “I’ve never been too good to pick up a penny and lately I’ve been falling short of too many.” A pistol, an armored truck and a murdered friend later, he’s found all the pennies and then some, but at a cost. Tempos change as the story shifts tone, further exemplifying Godwin’s ability to tell a tale. Whether his songs come from intimate moments or Appalachian misdeeds, his attention to detail and full arrangements keep the listener anxiously awaiting each twist in the tale.
Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Gas Well” – so many moods in one song, all wrapped around a great story.
How the Mighty Fall was produced, mixed and engineered by Al Torrence and mastered by Garrett Haines. All songs were written by Charles Wesley Godwin, with co-writes going to Torrence, Zach McCord and Larry Hooper. Additional musicians on the album include Torrence (electric guitar, backup vocals, acoustic guitar, piano, Hammond B3 and Mellotron), Aviva Hakanoglu (violin), Ben Townsend (fiddle, banjo), Charlie Barath (harmonica), Cody Woody (mandolin), Eric James (acoustic guitar, backup vocals), Jason Neukom (violin), Joe Pinchotti (drums, percussion), Max Somerville (piano, Rhodes), Nate Catanzarite (bass, backup vocals), Read Connolly (pedal steel, Dobro, lap steel), Rosanna Spindler (backup vocals), Ryan Ash (cello), Sean Neukom (viola) and Timothy “Doc” DeWitt (trumpet).
Go here to order How the Mighty Fall (out November 5):
Check out Charles Wesley Godwin tour dates on his website: http://www.charleswgodwin.com/