Mel Washington’s “Houses”
“Though “Houses” chronicles the many places that may never serve as home, one can’t help but appreciate being in the presence of honesty so beautifully expressed.” -CBCameron Barham
out of 10
February 19, 2013
Regenerate Music Company
Summer was like your house: you know
where each thing stood.
Now you must go out into your heart
as onto a vast plain.
Now the immense loneliness begins.
Rainer Maria Rilke, “Onto a Vast Plain”
There are times when an artist must be dislodged from the comfortable confines of what he has come to define as home in order to confront what has been haunting his own soul and breaking his own heart without adequate expression. This certainly appears to be the case for Mel Washington who was unceremoniously dislodged from the company of the rising band All Get Out, who is signed with our friends Favorite Gentlemen. With “Houses,” Washington has stepped out into the vast, broken plain of his heart and unearthed a wealth of material cultivated out of the resultant loneliness that comes from having no place to call home for now.
Stylistically, Washington leaves behind the visceral, careening rock for which he was known in favor of a more gently layered though no less visceral sound that delicately defines the environment in which his vocal confessions are displayed. The music on this record is truly excellent and varied which features creative collaboration with Chris Perot who co-wrote and lends vocals as well as Troy Stains on guitar, Alex Peterson on bass, Hunter Duncan on organ, Stevie West on Aussie Wizard, and Matt Goldman on drums and percussion. Matt Goldman (of SmallTown Poets) deserves recognition for his masterful production work on this record which was recorded at Glow in the Dark Studios in Atlanta. The primary brilliance of “Houses” is Washington’s stories sung through his smoothly textured vocals that call to mind a soulful Johnny Cash.
“Houses” wastes no time getting to the heart of the matter with what could arguably be the album’s thesis statement in the chorus to the bluesy manifesto “Whiskey Bent.” Washington declares: “Oh, that’s enough just because I’m alive, doesn’t mean I’ve ever lived. Well, I’m sorry to say it but I wish I could trade this all and start again. Well, I’ve tasted earth and I’ve tasted, hurting and I know just how it ends; All I’ve got are these songs and my voice, is almost gone and that’s the way it’s always been.” The disillusioned confessions continue on the aching “Ran Away” in which Washington admits to being his own self destructive gravedigger. The focus shifts to the relational ebb and flow so common to the seeking wanderer on “I Need Your Love” and the gorgeous country shuffle, “Come Back,” featuring a lovely call-response between piano, violin, upright bass, and banjo.
Fortunately, the second half of the album turns out to be as strong as the first half. “We’ve Been Driving” marches forgivingly through what could be the emotional wreckage of Washington’s experience with All Get Out though he pleads the 5th on this issue. This is tenderly followed by “Alyx’s Song” in which the penetrating question is asked: “But where goes the soul of a life that’s on hold?”, a pointed indictment to those who have judged too quickly and felt too little of what matters most. “Woe Is Me” finds Washington wearily chanting: “Home, home, home; You give and take from me; You won’t, won’t, won’t; You won’t let me be; All, all I know to be; I’ll fall, like a branch from a tree I didn’t wanna leave.” One cannot mistake the weight and gravity of being cut off from what once gave you life.
The album closes with the folky “Caroline, West Virginia” and the palpable “On the Way.” I have to admit that “On the Way” caught me off guard striking a deep emotional resonance within me who often feels like I’m always seeking and never arriving. Washington sings longingly: “I’m on my way home, I gotta get back home.” Though “Houses” chronicles the many places that may never serve as home, one can’t help but appreciate being in the presence of honesty so beautifully expressed.
Editor’s Note: If you’d like to see Washington perform a couple of raw versions of a few of these songs, check out our Acoustic Alley session with him by clicking HERE!