Review Summary: With a few hundred copies in circulation, This Is Me… Justified And Stripped is far from the rarest Butch Walker record on the market, but it’s probably the release that gives the most payback
With a few hundred copies in circulation, This Is Me… Justified And Stripped
is far from the rarest Butch Walker record on the market, but it’s probably the release that gives the most payback for the time and effort required to track it down. Never commercially released, the ten song mini-LP was recorded shortly after Walker had been up/down/side-streamed from Arista Records to Sony proper. While he prepared to lay down the tracks for his second solo record, Letters
, he embarked on a short acoustic tour and recorded the shows with the intention of a full commercial release.
The tracks featured on the album are taken from various shows across America, however the majority seem to be taken from a June 7, 2003 performance in Atlanta, Georgia (Butch’s adopted home city), which featured guest appearance by Walker’s ex-Marvelous 3 bandmates, drummer Mitch “Slug” McLee and bassist Jayce Fincher. The show was later released as an extra feature on 2006’s Live at Budokan
DVD, while Justified And Stripped
surfaced as a bonus disc with limited online orders of Letters
The hometown atmosphere proves to be crucial, as Walker appears genuinely comfortable, if a little humbled, by the enthusiastic crowd which, naturally, is normally the largest of the tour. The banter between artist and audience is lively at the best of times; at one point Butch picks his parents out from the audience and asks his mother: “Momma, do you remember when you sat me on your knee and said ‘Son, if you ever gonna get laid you better play some fu
ckin’ Carpenters?’ No?” before launching into a short rendition of the classic ‘Close To You,’ and the harmonies of one go up a notch for the other, as he segues into Maxi Priest’s song of the same name, before beginning a suitably dynamic version of ‘Mixtape.’
More of the songs are accompanied by back-stories; ‘Diary of a San Fernando Sexx Star’ is dramatically re-cast here as, simply, ‘Diary.’ Originally a peppy, synth-driven power pop number which, the mood here is decidedly mournful, strongly implying a tragic conclusion where the original left the door open. The explanation beforehand reveals that the “little Jewish princess” in question was in fact a local girl who “replaced the star of David for the ones in her eyes,” ending up in Hollywood’s wastebasket regardless, becoming a porn actress and eventually overdosing.
What was new material at the time, and would today be classified as “old material,” is among the strongest Letters
had to offer: ‘Best Thing You Never Had’ has always been better live than in studio, as chaotic and cathartic songs tend to be, as Walker describes it: “the last bitter break-up song of the night.” ‘Don’t Move’ is melodically the more intricate of the three, and also the most demanding for the singer, as he fits more words into a single breath than could normally be considered healthy, while ‘Mixtape’ features excellent hand-drum action by skinsman Kenny Crenshaw.
It’s the old songs that receive the biggest pop, however. ‘Cigarette Lighter Love Song’ is introduced as the last song the Marvelous 3 ever wrote, recorded and performed, and that’s certainly the spirit in which he sings it, announcing “let’s do this” when he’s the only one playing, before singing the chorus, itself an re-write of Mott The Hoople/David Bowie’s classic ‘All The Young Dudes.’ ‘Every Monday’ features both Mariah Carey and Elvis impersonations, the stripping down (hence the title- take a shower, Christina) of ‘Suburbia’ exposes the track’s rap influence (as if the mini-cover ‘Mrs. Jackson’ half-way through wasn’t subtle enough), while ‘Let Me Go’ is
, in fact, the last bitter break-up song of the evening. Forget what he said earlier.
The real highlight of the record, though, cannot be but the closing track, Left of Self-Centered
’s ‘Take Tomorrow (One Day at a Time),’ a slightly corny but 100% earnest response to the confusion that was caused by the World Trade Centre attacks. Explaining that he was unhappy with the full-band studio recording, Walker lets his band off early and ventures into the crowd, where he sits and incites a sing-along (though he still manages to drown everybody out.)
Touching, lame or just downright cheesy (you decide), it’s the essence of Walker’s live show. Though he probably did the same damn thing at every show on that tour, it’s still a remarkable finish to a remarkable show and, as well-rehearsed as it is, it’s simply something that cannot be faked or half-as
sed. He’s a genuine showman, with the singing and songwriting chops to back it up. And hey, if nothing else, it’s undoubtedly preferable to watching Chris Martin display the venue’s name written on his ugly knees at every show. Now, if that’s showmanship…