Butch Rice is pure pop. For some, the "P" word is dirty, but Louisville mainstay Rice is undeterred. As evidenced by his latest, Fall For Me, he spins out the emotions and sticky hooks with abandon. And he does it well.
Far removed from his debut Acoustic Pop (1999), Rice's latest effort is similarly melodic and emotionally driven, but there is production where there should be production, adding depth and completing the varying moods of each song.
The title track leads off the eight-song disc with classic mournful Rice longing for someone who seems just out of his reach. The slowly marching rhythm, acoustic guitars and piano provide just enough of a backdrop for lyrics like this one: "Lost in all your subtleties/I kiss your face and taste your mysteries/You whisper you might let me see/Who you are, you might be wanting me."
See? Pop. But Rice does it deftly – he's a Ryan Adams disciple, an influence which blends nicely with his roots in 1960s, 1970s and '80s pop (catch a live show sometime and request his take on "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" – you won't be sorry).
"Love Falls Down" is another album highlight. Bursting with energy, this track builds from the word go and rides a big chorus that culminates with a chorus of backing vocals, a gorgeous keyboard backdrop, and a deftly played lead guitar.
But what drives this set more than anything is Rice's distinctive voice. It is truly unique, both soulful and intense, with a timbre that fits his emotionally-driven songs perfectly. His singing style is similarly unique, because he fills in gaps – even when he isn't belting out a lyric, often he will fill space with oohs and ohs that somehow sound just as heart-wrenching as lines like, "As I fall to the floor/On my knees I scream your name."
Tracks like "Too Late" and "Wasted" show Rice in his more familiar stripped-down persona, which lends plenty of breathing room to his voice and, therefore, his emotive storytelling. It sounds cliché, but if you let yourself really listen and get into the songs? You'll find yourself getting chills.
This is a welcome return that sets the bar higher still for Rice's music. Here's hoping Fall For Me is the launching it sounds like it could be.
Find out more at butchrice.com. The CD release show is Friday, Aug. 5, at Saint's Skybar in St. Matthews.