Brandon L. Butler – Killer on the Road

Brandon L. Butler
Killer on the Road

The name Brandon Butler may not be familiar, but any fan of indie-rock and emo probably is aware of Butler’s previous projects. He fronted one of the most overlooked emo bands of the mid- to late-90s, Boys Life, which produced two of the finest albums in the vein of Christie Front Drive and Mineral. One album with his next project, Farewell Bend, showed a more hooky indie-rock style with those same emo leanings. Then Butler disappeared for a while, re-emerging with his project Canyon, on which his unique vocal styles took a more country- and folk-based rock sound. Now Butler has released his first album under his own name, and Killer on the Road shows a mature, strong songwriter with an extremely unique voice.

Butler’s joined on this album by cellist and pianist Amy Domingues, who adds a lovely and lighter accompaniment to his guitar and voice, and the production by Fugazi veteran Brendan Cantry (with Butler) maintains a raw style that fits the songs perfectly. Butler has a raw, whiskey-soaked voice an octave or so higher than one might expect, and while it may have sounded out of place to some in his earlier rock offerings, it fits here nicely. He has a country-esque twang that doesn’t sound at all forced, and the soft acoustic tracks speak of a harsh Midwestern life.

The title track kicks things off, with the cello adding a dark and sweet touch to this standout song. The country style of guitar on “First Day” feels more akin to Butler’s Canyon work, while there’s some nice studio effects to provide an echoey quality to the quiet “Throwing Roses.” The stark “Sixty Stitches” is an especially moving storytelling track, and the closing “True Believer” sounds like Butler was perhaps recording the song live in a large space, the echoes of his softly plucked strings tinkling in the background, his voice stark and prominent.

The more upbeat “Sparks” finds Butler providing both melody and rhythm through his stellar and often beautiful guitar playing. The rock-n-rolling “Next Time” is another fun, upbeat tracks, with some rhythm and what sounds like mandolin adding a nice touch to the song. Butler adds a few recording moments into the powerful “Surrounded By Flowers,” which adds some rich piano and feels like a more enveloping song.

Butler’s voice and style reminds me of Lucero frontman Ben Nichols. For singer/songwriter fare, it definitely leans toward the country side of things, but the songs here evoke the rich songwriting style of Neil Young more than Willie Nelson, and Butler pulls it off as if he’s lived a hundred years, his raw voice and stark style proving it. This is a stellar album, and it’s far and away better, in my opinion, than the Canyon albums that seemed to lead Butler in this direction.