For the past two years, my most-listened to album of the year on Spotify has been How the Mighty Fall by Charles Wesley Godwin.
Unfortunately I have a feeling that streak is going to come to an end this year.
But it’s not really bad news for CWG. Because he’s going to be replacing himself on the list.
Today, Charles released his highly-anticipated third album, Family Ties, his first record since signing with Big Loud Records earlier this year.
But if you were worried that Charles’ sound was going to change now that he’s on a label, fear not: He actually finished this album before ever inking his record deal.
And one listen through the album and you’ll hear that same incredible storytelling that’s made Charles such a compelling artist, coupled with his booming voice and vivid imagery that transports you right to the mountains of his native West Virginia.
On his first album, Seneca, the songs focused heavily on his home state. And on How the Mighty Fall, Charles dug into the theme of mortality, especially on songs like the title track and the haunting “Cranes of Potter.”
And on this third album, the theme is undeniably his family – Charles recently became a father for a second time along with his wife, Samantha – with songs like “Gabriel” named after his son and “Dance In the Rain,” which is a message for his young daughter.
Charles spoke with Whiskey Riff about the album ahead of its release:
“I like them to be coherent and have a point to them, and a message, a theme. I don’t want them to just be 10 separate songs that have nothing to do with each other just thrown into a box… I always want them to have a common thread throughout the songs…
I wrote a whole album about family. It’s real personal to me. I’m singing specifically to my kids and my family and everybody, and there’s nobody quite doing that – for better or worse.”
But he says the songs that ultimately became Family Ties came about after he went through somewhat of a rut in his songwriting:
“I was in a rut for like half a year in 2021 going into 2022. I had just tons of stress on me in 2021. My business almost went under, going out on the road with my giant band and making very little money, trying to make it until ‘How the Mighty Fall’ came out, and it almost didn’t work.
I was losing sleep that whole year with all the stress, so I hardly wrote a word through all that. Then ‘How the Mighty Fall’ comes out and all these labels start coming into the picture. And it was this weird attitude of like, ‘Let me see what you have now.’
And I was like, ‘Well I just released an album. I got two albums, do you like those?’
And they wanted to cherry pick and see what I had then. So I have all these people depending on me to make a living, they have families, and there’s these folks wanting to cherry pick what I’m creating, I’ve been in this rut, and it was this whole new mix of variables that I’d never dealt with.
So I had three months off before my daughter was about to be born and after she was born. So, I got back home, was actually able to stop and get some rest, started going down into the office and working every morning. And I kinda went back into what I’ve always done, just started trying to write stories and things like that that interest me…and this time it was just garbage.”
Charles says it was ultimately a late-night conversation with his father-in-law that managed to get him over the creative hump:
“He just kinda reminded me of why I’m even here in the first place. Here to write songs. This is what I do.
That’s what got me to the dance. It’s what I love. It’s what made me happy, and it’s the whole reason I started playing music, because I love writing songs and it makes me feel good and it’s my therapy.
And it just so happens that I’m able to make a living because of that. But that’s not the reason I do it. It’s not about that.
So he just told me to get back to the basics and just write songs. It’s what you do, it’s what you’re put onto this earth to do. And that’s all I needed to hear.
I went down the next morning and wrote ‘Two Weeks Gone,’ which is a song on the album, and after that one I was like, ‘Alright, I’m just going to write about my family this year. It’s what I feel like doing. I feel like I need to do this.’
And I had the best writing year of my life.”
That theme of family is front and center on the album, from the songs to his children to “Miner Imperfections,” a song about lessons learned from his coal miner father, and of course the album’s title track, “Family Ties.”
And while Charles says that he’s not interested in completely changing his style, he worked hard to make sure his music wasn’t stagnant either – and that there are some songs that are unlike anything else he’s done before:
“It’s not like I’m trying to reinvent myself by any means. I don’t really have any interest in that. I’ve always done what I loved and I’ll continue to do that.
But it’s definitely unique. And there’s songs on it that, I’ve never heard anything like ’em. So it’s not more of the same. But I’m also not trying to reinvent myself and some different type of music…
‘Another Leaf’ is going to be cool to see folks reaction to. And ’10-38.’ Those two songs are completely different from anything I’ve ever done, and very unique from what anybody else is doing. So it’ll be interesting to see how folks react to them.”
There’s been a ton of buzz around this album, which really proves what Charles has been able to accomplish as an independent artist to this point in his career. But one listen to the album and you’ll hear exactly why all that buzz – and the record deal – was so deserved.
Once again, the album is a masterclass in storytelling, with lyrics that are often more like poetry than songwriting. But underlying the vivid pictures that he paints are those common themes of family, of lessons learned, and of the struggles it took to get there.
It’s an album that seems more personal to Charles than any he’s written so far. But the beauty of his songwriting is that, despite the fact that not everybody has a career that keeps them on the road for weeks at a time, everybody can find themselves relating to the words of songs like “Two Weeks Gone,” that find Charles longing to get back home to his family after being away.
And although your father or grandfather might not have been a coal miner, chances are you can relate to “Miner Imperfections,” with lessons like “how to pair a diamond to a girl” and the experience of watching even the toughest of dads tear up when their grandchildren are born.
Family Ties may be Charles’ most personal work, but it paradoxically may be the album that folks are able to relate to the most.
That’s the brilliance of CWG’s songwriting – and why this album is easily a favorite for the best album of 2023.
I can already tell it’s going to be at the top of my most played list by years’ end. And all it took was another album from Charles to knock his last one out of the top spot.