By Travis Erwin
William Clark Green has never been an artist that you could confuse with another performer. Some might describe him as quirky, or eccentric as not only is the gravel in his voice a bit different sounding, but often his songwriting takes a unique approach as well. His hit “Ringling Road” certainly covered different ground in creating its unique vibe and there is a good bit of that same spirit on Green’s new album Baker Hotel. The inspiration for the album name comes from an actual hotel with a very intriguing history of its own.
For years, decades actually, The Baker Hotel has loomed in state of urban decay over the quaint town of Mineral Wells, Texas. Despite opening just after the big stock market crash of 1929, the once glorious resort and spa was a hot destination for both the famous and infamous through the 30s but advances in medicine took the shine off the mineral water that rises from the ground and the hotel was eventually shuttered in 1963. Plans are in the works to renovate and bring the place back to life, but for years the rumored ghosts have been the only occupants of this hulking relic.
Ironic then that the first track on William Clark Green’s homage to the building, is song called “Feel Alive.” The track has a Robert Earl Keen vibe to the rhythm and cadence of the delivery. Green and Keen do not sound all that much alike, but both artists could be called unconventional, and both convey the same kind of raw emotion. This opening track lifted me up the way Keen’s “Feeling Good Again” tends to do and set the tone for an intriguing collection of songs.
The next two tracks, “Gun To Your Head,” and “Give A Damn” deliver the sound WCG is known for and while both are nice tracks with that vocal gravel leading the way, neither song swept me up and away the way Green can when at his best. That said both tracks have heart and passion even while utilizing a structure more like other songs from the genre than some of WCG’s biggest hits.
The fourth track “Anymore” could be my favorite from the album. Coming with a slower build, the track has a vulnerability that feels all the more raw because of WCG’s vocal style. The despair and loneliness and regret comes through in every line.
The title track, “Baker Hotel” is the kind of quirky song that WCG pulls off so well. The track has a similar vibe as Ringling Road and WCG embraces that fact rather than running from it with the end result almost feeling like a sequel as he invites the ghosts of this iconic landmark to come out and play chicken with the mortals looking for a thrill.
Every good artist needs a dog song, and while most extol the virtues of man’s so-called best friend, true to his form, Green takes a different approach. This “Dog Song” has a Guy Clark vibe as man and beast compete for the love of a good woman. “All Pot No Chicken” comes next to keep the fun, energetic vibes going.
“Getting Drunk” is a slower, more tender track looking at the residue of living that party lifestyle and for all of us that have ever had those nights, or a string of such nights, the track will resonate deeply as we examine the reasons, we self-medicate. The track is another contender for my personal favorites from the album. “All You Got” offers more of an in your face take of the party life, by calling the bluff of someone who delivering an ultimatum.
Perhaps the thing that WCG does best is create songs that feel like part of your life. The turn of phrase, the inviting tone, both enriched by their own style of imperfections. These qualities make his music both unique and relatable and that separates William Clark Green from the vast majority of artists out there. “Best Friends” is an ode to those friends we all need in life, and the track feels both nostalgic and heartwarmingly true. “Love To Hate” did not have as much impact for me as other tracks on Baker Hotel, but it does offer a nice straightforward sound and direction and has a more commercial vibe than other tracks on this album, though Green has always transcended the need to offer conventional songs structured to meet radio demands.
Disappointment is something we all face and often it comes from within as we fail to meet our own expectations. “Leave me Alone” is the conversations we have with ourselves in song form.
We all have ghosts that plague our relationships and this album, named after a ghost of a building, begins with a track about life and vitality and ends with a track, “Me, Her, and You” about old relationships haunting the present. The arc was not lost on me and I think in a bigger sense the tone and shifting views of the world and ourselves is mirrored with our journey through life as we transition from blind eager enthusiasm to new realties after accruing a few battle scares.
I enjoyed the symmetry of this dynamic in how it relates to the history of the actual Baker Motel, as well as William Clark Green’s unique sound and journey. The album feels like Texas, but not to the point of excluding those unfamiliar with the state or its ways. The album feels alive, even when, or maybe especially when, -- it dives into the things that haunt our minds and souls.
Baker Hotel adds to the allure that is William Clark Green and is an album that I expect to go down as one of the year’s best.
Baker Hotel is out today.
Travis Erwin is a native Texan now living in Southern California. Along with being a passionate fan of good music, Travis is an author or numerous books, including the forthcoming novel, THE GOOD FORTUNE OF BAD LUCK. Available for preorder now, the novel releases May 17th. You can find Travis on TWITTER - @traviserwin or INSTAGRAM @travis_erwin_writer