Review – Charles Wesley Godwin’s “How The Mighty Fall”

photo: Harry Ilyer

The words, the sounds alone aren’t enough. To evoke the magic only the best music can attain, you must believe the performer delivering them to you. There has to be conviction behind the words, and soul behind the music. The experiences have to be lived, or at least conceived from the inkwell of the heart, and delivered with such striking honesty, you can’t help but buy in, and believe.

Country music in its earliest iterations sprang from the hills and hollers of Appalachia as the authentic experiences of rural dwellers set to song. It only stands to reason that it’s this same region that is seeding the renewal of this music with its sons and daughters once again since they are so uniquely qualified to re-instill the truth, honesty, and sincerity into this important form of American expression.

It was a song called “Needle Fall Down” that first piqued the keen interest of this particular set of ears in 2016 when it appeared on the debut (and only) album of Charles Wesley Godwin’s band, Union Sound Treaty. It was one of numerous signs that this wasn’t just the frontman of your average local West Virginia bar band. Godwin had the indefinable “it.” Revisiting the now five-year-old track on Godwin’s new album is risky, since the original version of a song almost always is the one that nestles most favorably in your grey matter, and is averted to revision.

But this is Charles Wesley Godwin. It isn’t just that by stripping the composition down from the original that resuscitates “Needle Fall Down.” It’s how the contours of his voice and delivery are so expertly captured in the effort, it stresses how Godwin contains that indefinable something impossible to procure through practice or training. Either you’re born with it, or your not. And Charles Wesley Godwin was.

“Needle Fall Down” is just one of many superlative offerings from Charles Wesley Godwin’s second solo release. How The Mighty Fall refuses to be complacent in its approach. A host of sounds are pulled from to fulfill its dozen tracks, not just Appalachian country. What makes it country and Appalachian is Charles Wesley Godwin, and the stories he tells, which for the first time are not born from his own biography, but still come alive from the intimacy he feels with them as they’re pulled from his immediate surroundings.

How The Mighty Fall is a treatise in storytelling through song. Taking a simple piece of rural graffiti and turning it into a love saga is the magic sowed into “Jesse.” Expressing the palpable struggle of a man trying hold onto his family’s land and legacy in “Gas Well” gives way to imagined landscapes usually resigned to cinema. Filling you in on a century’s worth of history in under 4 1/2 minutes is the wonder behind the murder ballad “Cranes of Potter.”

And the whole time, the music refuses to be confined by conventional ideas of regional genre, bounding to whatever influence best fits the mood of the tale to be told. That may be back porch Appalachia simplicity, starting with a fingerpicked melody, and then finding room for a little fiddle and steel guitar in the opening song “Over Yonder.” Or it could be the unadulterated Blue Ridge rock of “Blood Feud” and “Strong.” When the sentiments turn sharp and the moments tense, so does the music. When it’s time for soft reflection, the music follows suit.

Some of the contemporary guitar tones, like on the song “Strong” or the title track of the album perhaps bound a little too far outside of what you would expect from a roots artist from West Virginia like Charles Wesley Godwin. But these minor sins are easy to forgive since How The Mighty Fall is willing to take chances, doesn’t settle for anything, and shows such spirit and ambition.

As the album continues on, the story craft only continues to grow stronger, to the point where a little universe is formed with intertwined characters and narratives, all encapsulating the epic and poetic rhythms of a rural town.

Charles Wesley Godwin may not find the type of overwhelming reception that Tyler Childers or Chris Stapleton have, which is turning country music upside down and rewriting its conventions. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve to. How The Mighty Fall proves that he does.

Two Guns Up (9/10)

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