Album Review – Becky Warren’s “The Sick Season”

Combining the splendid messiness of Lucinda Williams, the warrior poet heart of James McMurtry, the rock and roll abandon of east Nashville alley cat Lilly Hiatt, and enough grit and groove to make ol’ Ray Wylie Hubbard nod in approval, Becky Warren turns in a rough and tumble travelogue through angsty self-diagnosis and slogs through pits of despair called The Sick Season that’s certainly not pretty, but nails you between the eyes with a potency of lyric, melody, and attitude not often attained in the docile halls of Americana or anywhere else.

Becky Warren recently endured an extended bout of severe depression and loathsomeness that resulted in many lost months in her life, and harrowing experiences that shouldn’t be wished upon anyone. But what she found during this period of despondency was the inspiration and sordid details to compose these 10 songs, and it’s hard to argue with the results. These are songs that only get written by living through them, and then finding the capacity to capture the stories and perspective in a rawness that allows the listener to live through them as well.

Not a country record as much as dirty alt-rock Americana, the abandon in the music is met in kind with the brutal honesty in the verses. It’s the way the timing of Becky Warren’s delivery is a little bit off that gives notions of inebriation, like the wheels may wobble free and the car might careen into the ditch at any moment. It’s a wreck in the making you can’t turn your attention away from, yet the underlying craft in the effort veers towards perfection.

The specificity with which Warren tells these stories is what makes them so singular and compelling. “I’ve got a .22 in the backseat with the booze, ’cause I’ve got an appointment with the blues,” she mumbles on the opening track. Later she’s longing for the simplicity of when she was a girl, singing “Tuesday is scouts, Friday’s gymnastics” in a way that puts you right in those moments of your own childhood. Meanwhile the music does much more than guess at the mood intended, it rises to meet it with a diverse approach taken to each song, from straightforward rock, to quiet folk, to gritty Americana.

What strikes you most is despite the dour mood sewn into each of these tracks, The Sick Season is just a very enjoyable listen. Becky Warren gets down, rocks out, waxes moody, puts herself out there, and leaves it all in the studio. Often when an artist’s first foot forward and most formidable superpower is songwriting, melody, energy, attitude, and infectiousness is an afterthought, and a bonus if it’s included. With The Sick Season, even if you don’t care for the stories, you’re likely to find yourself digging on the music.

A previous winner of the prestigious songwriting competitions at both Merlefest and Kerrville, Warren began her solo career after performing with the band The Great Unknowns by putting her experiences of being married to an Iraq War veteran suffering from PTSD in her debut album War Surplus. The album followed the tribulations of a fictional couple, while her second album Undesirable also spun her tales through the perspectives of others.

Becky Warren received high acclaim for her first two records. But in the personal accounts of The Sick Season, she really finds her voice and a style that sets her apart. Nothing feels calculated or even intentional about this album. It’s one of those records an artist just had to make to exorcise the demons of sullen moments, for better or worse. In Becky Warren’s case, it’s for the better of us all.

8.5/10

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