In many respects Becky Warren's "Undesirable" mirrors Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising" in its rallying cries, its driving, jangling guitars and ultimately its message of hope. This is one of this year's most impressive releases in the category, loosely called Americana, with elements of both a great country and superb rock n' roll album.
This follows Warren's lauded solo debut, "War Surplus," that was partly inspired by her own life and told the love story of an Iraq War veteran and his girlfriend. Warren did not intend to write a second concept album until she found herself inspired by another group of people who seem "othered" by society: the individuals selling Nashville's street paper, The Contributor, which is produced by a local non-profit aimed at providing an earned income opportunity for people experiencing homelessness and poverty. Intrigued by the concept, Warren started to approach the vendors on the street, introduce herself and ask to talk with them while they sold the paper.
It seems like a bleak topic, but Warren finds plenty of relatable human interest that cut across any demographic. In many cases you must listen carefully to realize she is speaking about homelessness and poverty because the songs center on a higher level, covering heartbreak, discovering love and mostly facing tough odds and overcoming them. As a result, the music is joyful and energetic with lasting messages about triumph and resiliency.
Supporting Warren on "Undesirable" are producer/guitarist Dan Knobler (Lake Street Dive, Rodney Crowell, Kelsey Waldon), Warren's longtime bassist Jeremy Middleton (also of Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen) and her friend and mentor Amy Ray, contributing vocals to the rousing anthem opener, "We're All We Got," a gem worthy of AMA Song of the Year mention. Other strong contributors, Danny Mitchell on keys and Philip Sterk on pedal steel.
While the album is remarkably strong throughout, note "Carmen," a love song about making things work and "The Drake Motel," detailing the 'motel homeless' - meaning they make enough money to afford basic housing, but are unable to meet other requirements needed to obtain a more stable rental. You get the impression that her songs are combination of observations and lived in experience. "Let Me Down Again" has the protagonist fighting and breaking out of co-dependent relationship. "Half-Hearted Angels" is a country weeper that would easily fit in Margot Price's set list while "Dabbs Avenue" echoes a hymn-like Lucinda Williams.
Conceptually, lyrically and musically Warren hits all the right buttons.