“Homefront” by The Great Unknowns
Reviewed By: Janet Yaceczko
Release Date: January 10, 2012
Homefront is different from any album I have ever heard. It’s heavy, it’s hard and it’s gritty. Front-woman Becky Warren’s sound ranges from Tanya Tucker and Mary Chapin Carpenter (who recorded in the same studio this album was recorded in – with the very same microphone and piano/organ player Jon Carroll) to Heidi Newfield, Allison Moorer and a little bit of Bonnie Raitt. If you like the idea of the personal songs of Taylor Swift (but find her a little adolescent for your tastes) Warren has written an album full of grown-up, honest and heartfelt songs. Now, don’t imagine you’re in for fun and cheer. This stuff’s for real. The songs are sad, often tragic, and always honest. As country music has a way of doing, Warren simply tells us what it’s like to have your man come home to you from the war.
We hear from men what it’s like to be there. We’ve got Toby Keith’s “American Soldier”. Then there’s the songs that tell us how the men miss their women and families, such as “I’m Already There” by Lonestar and “Homeward Bound” by Simon & Garfunkle. We have the sad songs of women who lose their men, with Carrie Underwood’s “Just a Dream,” and the fabulous “Travelin’ Soldier” by the Dixie Chicks. But there is very little about the men who come home. We always have this picture of a man, weeping into his wife’s hair as they rush to meet each other. Him in his uniform, kissing his baby and his wife and lost to the world. Where’s the picture after that? It’s like the song, “Hey, Cinderella” by Suzy Bogguss-what’s next? Darryl Worley summed it up perfectly in the song “I Just Came Back from the War” with this: “I just came back from a place where they hated me/And everything I stand for/a land where our brothers are dying for others who don’t even care anymore/ chances are I will never be the same/I really don’t know anymore, I just came back from a war.” That’s the closest it comes to with what Warren has given in Homefront.
In this album, we get the voice of a woman whose man does come back from the war. We get the time after the tearful welcome. The Great Unknowns give us the voice, for so long and very silent, of a woman who sees the change. Warren writes the truth charitably in the song “You Took The Long Way Home” with the lyrics-“You came back to me a different man/I know you’re not to blame but my heart broke all the same/you came back to me a different man.”
The first song on the album, “Lexington”, opens with a cheery little riff, giving the impression of a rather jolly tune. There’s plenty of attitude in this song: “I’m not as stupid as you think/ I knew the whole time you’d be gone/ I knew you didn’t mean a thing you said/ I’m glad you didn’t prove me wrong”, which of course makes us all know that’s not true. But, how every woman wants him to think so! The best line of the song is when she mentions that he’d finally fallen in love, though he said he never could, and she responds that I guess you found someone after all, “…or else some girl tore you apart.” Simple. Sincere. Fantastic.
“Dead River, Lake County” drags a little when you first hear it. But, when you hear it a second time and a third, the tempo is perfect. A few songs on the album are like this, where at first, being used to country radio’s rushing through everything, you feel a bit of a lag. But this is music for “the open road” and shouldn’t be rushed. “A Bad Way” is a soulful drive, with horns and stunning lead vocals absolutely twisting you apart.
“Wrong” is probably my favorite song on the album. It opens with a steel guitar that you can almost feel the sawdust beneath your feet and smell the smoke and beer of an old honky tonk bar. It’s “Back to December” done so much better, with the haunting lyrics “And I don’t know much about love/‘cus my heart’s learned not to ask/ but if you still think I’m the one/I can learn fast.” The title track “Homefront” is the most Americana example on the album, organ chiming from opening to close. You can hear a little Reba influence in this one, intentional or not, as it’s got the eerie sounds of “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia.”
“Birmingham” hits you in the gut just as hard. Warren affirms in this song “you said you loved me too/But that it wasn’t worth a damn/You’ve got a way of saying something/That everyone wants to hear, in a way that no one wants to hear it.” It was a finalist in the Adult Contemporary category of the Mid-Atlantic Song Contest, where the next song, “I Wish I Was the Girl I Was” took home the grand prize. This line is enough to tell you why: “You’ve got a lot of nerve to call me now, after all the ways I let you down/ I’m tired of wanting things I can’t have anymore.”
“Long Way Home” opens with the mandolin musing on that “kid gone to war, wondering what he came back for…” You hear Alison Krauss and Union Station in this song-with the fiddle, mandolin and crystalline vocals. “I’m Gonna Get My Heart Broken” is another dancin’ in the bar song. Great lyrics and a bit of a conclusion to the heartache felt throughout the album. Warren really gets to move on, and is even willing to get her heart broken again – that’s the real sign of really being over someone, isn’t it? Here’s the hope: “I’m gonna sing all my new songs for strangers/ I won’t write any more about you/I’m gonna love all the people you hated, and make my heart new.”
The last song, “Army Corps of Engineers”, shows again who this album can be for. It’s for those who haven’t had this kind of consolation before: for the daughters, the wives, the sisters and for the families of men gone off to war who come home changed. I would like to say the album ends on a happy note, with hope for a joyful future; but it ends so sadly, with a jaded perspective on the future, even in moments of happiness. “This too will pass away, like your breath on a window/on a cold winter’s day, like a radio signal down a long highway/this too is gonna pass away.”
So honest. So real.
Preview and buy Homefront here
Also, check out more information about The Great Unknowns at their official website