Undesirable is the excellent second album from Nashville based Americana songwriter Becky Warren. With great musical diversity and superb songwriting throughout it is a gritty and emotional album that inspires as well as entertains. And it deserves to be included in “album of the year” conversations.
Becky Warren started her musical career in Boston with alt-country band The Great Unknowns. Her life path diverted from music when she married a soldier, who was soon posted to Iraq. When he returned complete with PTSD their relationship fell apart. After their divorce Warren began to write music again, and the eventual result was her superb 2016 debut album War Surplus.
Rather than directly recall her experiences, Warren created a concept album based around a fictional couple. Their stormy relationship is laid bare in beautifully crafted songs told from both points of view covering a vast emotional range through desire, loneliness, confusion, hurt and resignation. It was an extremely ambitious debut and showcased a real emerging talent as both songwriter and performer.
For her second album, Becky Warren took inspiration from Nashville’s homeless community. A street newspaper, The Contributor, is produced as a social enterprise that gives the opportunity to make money through sales, much like The Big Issue. Warren chatted to many of the city’s venders, hearing of their lives, their hopes and their dreams.
But her songs do much more than simply retell stories. As fine songwriters do, she turns them into more universal tales. This isn’t an album about homelessness, but actually one exploring life’s struggles through the lens of those who have become homeless. And the lasting images are not of despair and addiction but rather of resilience and hope, of a determination to overcome.
Musically, Undesirable shows the great variety in Warren’s work, with its mix of up tempo rockers and country tinged slower songs. The high energy opening pairing of We’re All We Got, a celebration of communal strength, and the blistering lost youth anthem Nobody Wants To Rock n Roll No More hurtle along based around big rock riffs. They are followed by the standout Dabbs Avenue, a poetic slower song where heart-breaking loneliness is beautifully expressed.
Let Me Down Again is another highlight, a stylish tale of learning to stand on your own and find your inner strength. Sunshine State and Highway Lights are both good heartland rock songs with just a slight southern flavour, while the emotional anthemic closer Drake Motel tells of long lost love from a cheap room overlooking the parking lot.
Very different are the exquisite Valentine, another tale of lost love but this one slow and heartfelt, and Half Hearted Angel, a lovely downbeat, introspective track straight out of the Nashville songbook. And then there’s the quirky Carmen, a tender dream of growing love, and the acerbic country humour of the dark You’re Always Drunk.
Undesirable is an excellent album full of sharp lyrics that combine emotion and insight with occasional touches of wry humour. The imagery is often of the past, with faded photographs and ghostlike memories, but there is also hope for the future in dreams of a new love or a long sought after home. Becky Warren displays her songwriting ability through empathy and understanding and also shows an ability to recognise the strength it can sometimes take just to survive.