Album Review: Charles Wesley Godwin’s ‘Family Ties’
October 18, 2023
UPDATED: October 18, 2023

Album Release Date: Sept. 22, 2023

Label: Big Loud Records

Longing for Home with Charles Wesley Godwin’s ‘Family Ties’

Charles Wesley Godwin has undoubtedly forged a unique path in contemporary music, and I would argue that, in terms of lyrics, he has earned a place among the greats. His latest album, Family Ties, is no exception. The album, which includes an overture and an underture, spans an impressive 19 tracks with a total runtime of 1 hour and 10 minutes.

To be completely honest, and perhaps to my detriment of my reputation, my initial listen didn’t captivate me. I felt let down and somewhat bored. Unlike some of his peers, there are no catchy hooks, earworm melodies, or sudden tempo changes. This album serves as an overwhelmingly somber memoir, acting as a heartfelt tribute to Godwin’s family. It reminds me of an album one of the “old timers” might cut as a final farewell. Let’s hope that’s not the case.

With that said, the fault lies with me. This type of record makes a strong case for approaching albums as complete bodies of work. So, I sat down for a re-listen, cleared my mind, and focused on the music, melodies, and lyrics. Immediately, I had a different experience. The overture, titled, Tell the Babies I Love Them, sets a beautiful tone for the album, akin to a Western lullaby. Family Ties is a befitting title track that paints nostalgic pictures of family, old times, and the hayfields beneath the Seneca skies. Godwin belts out the chorus, “STRIKE ME DOWN, If I cut family ties!” – essentially declaring it as the album’s final epitaph.

For some background, I’m a 35-year-old family man from rural southwest Virginia. When I heard Miner Imperfections, I could feel the tears welling in my eyes. It transported me to thoughts of my own brazen father, talkin’ shit and in haulin’ wood in his muck-stained overalls. The Flood is exactly as it sounds, describing a biblical-scale flood. The musicianship and arrangement of this song are excellent, creating and maintaining tension throughout, only to leave it deliberately unresolved.

All Again is a simple yet profound statement written about his wife, their love, and their life together. As I mentioned earlier, I am a family man, the proud father of a stubborn 6-year-old boy and a newborn baby girl. After Gabriel and Dance in Rain, I was moved to tears once again. Both emotional songs are beautifully written letters to his son (Gabriel) and daughter (Dance in Rain). Another Leaf breaks away from the prevailing somberness of the album with its up tempo fiddle breakdown, while exploring the quirky metaphor of expanding the family tree.

That Time Again is a country standard about rowdy family gatherings. Skyline Blues is Godwin’s take on the well-worn theme of being tired of life on the road. I’m uncertain about the identity of “Anna Leigh” or “Annalee” in West of Lonesome, but he paints a vivid picture of traversing mountains, plains, and the sun itself in a fleeting attempt to reunite with her. Headwaters depicts settling down and raising a family, presumably along the Cheat River in West Virginia. After an attentive listen, I imagine this is an ode to an unnamed relative who returned home from Vietnam, describing his dreams of healing within his homeland.

10-38 is an intriguing track, arguably diverging from the album’s overarching theme. You could dedicate an entire article to dissecting its meaning, message, or why Godwin chose to include it on this album. 10-38 is a literal rewrite/response from the perspective of the state trooper in Bruce Springsteen’s State Trooper. Godwin excels at capturing the dark, acoustic, reverb-laden tone of Springsteen’s original.  The song recounts the troopers’ final encounter with an antagonist on the Jersey Turnpike. Again, I’m not entirely sure of the statement Godwin is trying to convey, but there’s ample room for the listener’s mind to wander.

Two Weeks Gone returns to fast-paced honky-tonk music, and Soul Like Me is a passionately sung piano tune, questioning his path as a performer and its toll on his future. On a second listen, it could be interpreted as a deeper metaphor, perhaps a double entendre about the afterlife. Willing and Able  is a silver-tongued pledge, vowing that nothing will ever separate him from his wife. Cue Country Roads adds some overdriven guitar solos and crunchy verses as Godwin calls for the country roads to bring him back home. What better way to follow Cue Country Roads than with an actual cover of John Denver’s Country Roads? The album comes to a close with the underture By Your Side, which is equally beautiful as the overture. The record fades to silence with Godwin singing a cappella with one of his children, undeniably the perfect way to conclude an album entitled Family Ties.

Final Thoughts

It’s astonishing how hot and cold I could be about this album. Then again, maybe not. Family Ties is masterfully written and well-produced. Godwin’s vocals harmonize impeccably with the rootsy arrangements. It’s challenging to dismiss something that, at times, can move me to tears. In my opinion, Family Ties is meant to be consumed as a cohesive body of work. The album is exceptionally rich in lyrics from start to finish. To appreciate it fully, you need to be in the right state of mind and give it time to sink in. It’s the type of witty art the Coen Brothers would pair with their movies. I can easily envision this album serving as the soundtrack to an indie film about returning home. Overall, Godwin continues to impress with his Appalachian poetry. He’s undoubtedly at the forefront of the genre, staking his claim.

Family Ties touches your heart deeply. You’ll find yourself calling home to your mama.

Favorite Tracks: Miner Imperfections, All Again

RootsnRevelry Grade:                           

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