The Great Unknowns
Becky possesses this rare ability to write about relationship issues with a universality that instantly connects. With a vocal style that reminds me at times of early Lucinda Williams, before the drink and other substances turned her voice rougher than sandpaper, Ms Warren possesses the perfect female Americana country voice, the kind that should be dominating the country charts, if it weren’t for the likes of Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, et al diluting country for the pop masses…This is the kind of modern-styled country album we’ve all been wishing the likes of Emmylou or even Faith Hill would record…sadly the suits in Nashville would never quite get it. So we more discerning listeners will continue to hang on for dear life to cult-records like this that the mass record-buying public will never get to hear. —Alan Cackett Read the whole review.
A lot of album reviews are an effort to describe what a band sounds like. Not this one. I wanna try and describe how honest, even in her own culpability, Homefront is. How raw the album is lyrically. Homefront isn’t a breakup album, it’s a reflection album. It’s an album that anyone who’s lost something dear to them can find common ground with. It’s an album I honestly believe you should listen to. It’s an album I believe will be on my year end list. It’s Essential Listening. Read the whole review.
The title track, with its words of love and longing, its biting guitar, and its ghostly Wurlitzer arpeggios (by guest keyboardist Tyler Wood), acutely represents the unusual ability this band has always possessed to rock and sound plaintive at the same time. The slow closer, “Army Corps of Engineers,” fittingly wraps up the album with a sad but hopeful look at a family relationship traumatized by war: “Like a radio signal down a long highway/This too is gonna pass away.” —Jon Sobel Read the whole review.
Our song “I Wish I Was the Girl I Was” won the grand prize in the 2012 Mid-Atlantic Song Contest, sponsored by the Songwriters Association of Washington. “Birmingham” was a finalist in the adult contemporary category. More about the contest.
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…So honest. So real. —Janet Yaceczko Read the whole review.
Released on 10 January 2012, this is a very early contender for one of this year’s great albums. Following the end of her marriage to a soldier who’d returned from Iraq with post traumatic stress disorder, Becky Warren was sufficiently affected that she wrote the 12 songs delivered here. Covering loss, love and the effect war had on her relationship, Warren certainly has plenty to say. Now with such potentially depressing subject matter, you’d be forgiven for thinking this album would be maudlin and induce some wrist slashing, but far from it, Warren delivers her oeuvre with panache and optimism with an upbeat musical roots rock swagger and a smoky southern voice…An excellent album and which should be one of your first purchases in 2012. Say the 10th of January? Reviewers score: 9/10. Read the whole review
Rick Cornell interview Great Unknowns’ frontwoman Becky Warren, and had this to say:
“Homefront [is] the anxiously awaited and searched-for second release from Becky Warren and the Great Unknowns. Homefront, released on January 10, is a travelogue with heart as well as a travelogue of the heart. It carries with it all of the gifts offered by its predecessor, plus a new twist or two. And also like its predecessor, it’s quickly become a go-to travel companion.Here’s what Becky Warren had to say about Presenting, about Homefront, and about the years in between.” Read the whole interview
The PRX show “In Search of a Song” selected our song “I Wish I Was the Girl I Was” for a profile in February 2012. Listen here.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK. I suspect The Great Unknowns won’t remain unknown for long, because the emphasis on their album HOMEFRONT is surely on the “Great.” Sounding like a cross between Lucinda Williams and Reckless Kelly, singer Becky Warren and bandmates Avril Smith, Altay Guvench, and Andy Eggers deliver an earnest dose of alt-country blues. From the first crunchy guitar chords of “Lexington” to the last somber note of “Army Corps of Engineers,” HOMEFRONT is a beautiful, yet bittersweet musical masterpiece. Read full review.
There are some excellent songs, and Becky’s voice has similar qualities to Lucinda Williams, which can’t be a bad thing. The album comes out on 10 January and…is well worth checking out. —Ernie Goggins Read full review.
This is a powerful and honest album. —Ken Paulson Read full review.
My prediction is that, above all else, two specific things about this debut will make the most immediate impact on listeners. First, with trips to north Virginia, New England, Las Vegas, Abilene, Corinth, Tennessee, and Carolina, Presenting The Great Unknowns puts on more miles than a record of truck driving songs. (Just a theory, but all this highway talk could be related to the fact that songwriter and vocalist Becky Warren lives in Statesboro, Georgia, while the other three band members live in Boston.) Second, the music that fuels these road trips frequently sounds like the work of an extraordinarily good tribute band, Sweet Old Gravel Road: The Lucinda Williams Experience. This strong similarity is most striking on “Forever”, all weathered vocals, accordion, and damaged hearts; its opening line, “Since you’ve been gone, my heart is a fist,” even sounds like it could have two-stepped off Williams’ self-titled record. Despite this second quirk — or, more likely, because of it — I can’t stop playing this disc. Warren’s songwriting is evocative and richly detailed throughout (“You can’t make it in this town without leather for bones and a conscience of stone” is one rather Townes-ian example), and guitarist Michael Palmer’s experience in the power-pop band Invisible Downtown seems to have brought on an exceptional crispness and hookiness to the Great Unknown’s rootsy rock. Thus, I walk around singing the “When I Was Your Girl” chorus from the fine song of the same name, earning strange looks from my wife and proving that the album has made a home in my head, and quite possibly in my heart. —Rick Cornell (also picked as one of the top 10 records of the year)
There are thousands of bands pounding out perfectly decent rock’n'roll in dank bars across this fine land — so why stop to listen to The Great Unknowns? Well, they play unpretentious heartland rock reminiscent of the better efforts of the Crows — both Sheryl and Counting. Becky Warren writes about guys who’ve treated her like shit with a dignity they don’t deserve and sings with a soulful, rebellious swagger, giving an otherwise meat-and-potatoes sound a little extra spice. —David Peisner
There’s nothing fancy about the Great Unknowns brand of Americana; rather, the emphasis is on solid songs presented in a straightforward, unpretentious fashion. Unfurling themes that run toward the open road and relationships gone awry, Presenting the Great Unknowns exudes a spirit rooted in heartland traditions. Vocalist and songwriter Becky Warren infuses the proceedings with a survivor’s confidence, often calling to mind former Lone Justice singer Maria McKee. High points include the brawny country-rocker “When I Was Your Girl,” the accordion-laced “Forever,” and a ballad titled “Deliver Me Home” that allows a glimpse at Warren’s vulnerable side. Band members Michael Palmer, Altay Guvench and Andy Eggers emphasize restraint over flash, and perfectly illustrate the Lou Reed adage that, when offering up a good song, few things beat the simplicity of a guitar, bass and drums.
Excellent songwriting in the Americana tradition. Really one of the best things I have heard this year. The band jokingly says they made the record for their grandmothers, but it should be heard by everyone. Fronted by a women with a salty southern voice, the production is pure and simple without any missteps.
“Unknowns”? Pretty much, although these children of the swampy side of the American South did a lot to change that when they toured with labelmates Indigo Girls in 2005. But it’s “Great” that’s the operative word here. Becky Warren has one of those born-for-alt-country voices: big and meaty, with a vulnerable little vibrato here and there. She also pens evocative songs that keep to the “universal” side of the usual roots tropes. Take “Round Hill,” which combines three standard themes — the love-hate relationship with small towns, the lure of the road, and the soldier’s story — without allowing any of them to become clichés. Even Pierce Woodward’s banjo sounds fresh. “Something to Do” is the sort of lonely-woman-scorned lament, set to a rock beat, that some folks think Lucinda Williams invented. “Forever” combines a resolute rhythm with an accordion that snakes in and out like a wayward emotion. And I love the interplay of 50s-sounding electric guitar and 60s-sounding organ on the torchy “Don’t Come Home.” It took the intervention of established musicians like Rose Polenzani (who sings harmony on “Presenting”) and the Indigos to give this group of refugees from defunct bands — besides Warren, the Unknowns are drummer Andy Eggers, bassist Altay Guvench, and guitarist Michael Palmer — a hand up to the footlights, a move that makes the buddy system seem like one of the best things the music biz has going for it these days. —Pamela Murray Winters
The Great Unknowns are going to have to change their name. Because I personally am going to recommend their new CD, Presenting the Great Unknowns, to everyone I know. It’s simply great rock, with gritty lyrics sung by Becky Warren. That’s right, it’s fronted by an excellent female voice that is unabashedly Southern and quite surprising. Warren’s voice is totally incongruous with the way she looks. You’d expect some cute little voice made for pop charts. Not in the slightest; this is the kind of voice I personally wish all women had:powerful, masterful, and gorgeous, Warren is accompanied by a great band, too. With guitarist Mike Palmer, Altay Guvench on bass, and Andy Eggers playing drums, the Great Unknowns are a group of competent, experienced musicians. But they aren’t all about publicity like so many bands today. They care about music, not mailing lists and a public following. And really, that’s what’s most important. They’ve provided good music and that following is sure to come because of it. I personally enjoyed the entire CD, especially “Round Hill,” being a Virginia girl myself. “Something to Do” and “Don’t Come Home” are also great tracks that make you sing along. Do yourself a favor: pick up this CD, and get all your friends a copy, too! —AH
Warren’s voice combines the earthy, Southern twang of Lucinda Williams — especially on “Forever,” a tune that even fans might think is a lost Williams side — with a jazzy, Rickie Lee Jones-style croon. The songs don’t stray outside of the strummy Americana genre, but they are consistently well composed and performed, making the disc sound vibrant and alive on the first spin. Recorded in “a dingy dormitory-basement studio,” the tapes found their way to Daemon owner/Indigo Girl Amy Ray’s ears. She released it as is, which gives the sound a rough but honest core. It’s a relaxed, unhurried set, in part due to the low-key way in which it was recorded. The tunes are mostly about leaving a relationship or a city or a state of life, looking for a better future “over the great divide.” Warren’s voice and lyrics perfectly flow together, conveying longing and hope with a sense of tough pride. All the emotions converge on the stunning “Deliver Me Home,” a track that builds from a lone desolate acoustic guitar to a forceful ballad with full-band accompaniment as Warren’s voice transforms from softly forlorn to powerfully insistent. It’s the highlight of a terrific debut that shows tremendous potential. —Hal Horowitz
Time to reorganize the CD library to make room for this alt/country debut release from the Northeast’s Great Unknowns, and I’m not sure how long that name will fit, if this release is any indication of things to come. Move your Mary Gauthier and Kathleen Edwards over a notch, because this one will fit right in alongside of them. Written entirely by Becky Warren and guitarist Michael Palmer, it’s a seamless ten song collection showcasing Warren’s beautiful voice and lyrics. It’s hard to pick out the best, but “Abilene”, about a love lost to a town, and “Round Hill”, a love lost to a war, are prime candidates, but the ballads are only part of the story. There’s some nice edgy stuff as well, like “When I Was Your Girl”, and “Something To Do”, and, “1000 Miles From Tennessee” is a road song that chugs right along with the best of them, like Jackson Browne’s “Take It Easy”. With Andy Eggers on drums, and Altay Guvench on bass rounding out the main cast, The Great Unknowns have a good, tight, sound, that shouldn’t leave them anonymous much longer. A pleasure to listen to, this one. —Don Grant
After a few listens, you’ll be asking yourself where these musical messiahs were hiding. With lush harmonies and accomplished instrumentation, the Great Unknowns romp and roll through 10 tracks that titillate your inner being; these raw Americana compositions make the perfect traveling companion for a long car trip. Becky Warren fronts this alt.-country band of merry music troubadours. With a voice that echoes Lucinda Williams with its gritty, passionate, well-deep delivery, the talented songsmith wrote or co-wrote all the songs on this debut. The storied songs evoke a sense of time and place – conjuring up images of a life spent chasing the white line down the highway through titles such as “Las Vegas,” “Round Hill,” “Abilene” and “1000 Miles of Tennessee.” The opener “Las Vegas” captures the essence of this larger than life city of pomp, glitz and shattered dreams with these poetic lines: “We come to Las Vegas/with our dreams 10 feet tall/We leave here as shadows if we get out at all.” Warren’s lyrics showcase a natural born storyteller, and you’ll find yourself returning again and again to these tales. If this dazzling debut is any indication, the Great Unknowns won’t be much longer. —David McPherson
On the edge of country and steeped in the Americana tradition, The Great Unknowns jokingly made Presenting for their grandmothers. The album has the ability to appeal to grandmothers and just about everyone else. The songwriting of Becky Warren fits with her southern tinged voice perfectly, and conjures characters in short stories of the American experience. The music transcends genre categorization, as it melds country, rock’n'roll and an accordian. The Great Unknowns describe their sound as “rock music for the open road.” The motif of the open road appears throughout the album. Warren often places the characters in her songs near or on the road. “Forever” has a recollection of better times: “riding in your car, singing all of the words/ radio just reminds me I’m always your girl.” The road becomes a figure that Warren utilizes as a memory trigger, in “Forever,” and then, she uses the road as a the wilderness of the interior on “Round Hill.” “Something To Do,” will strike awe into any listener. Warren’s soft voice becomes fervent, fueled by anguish. The song moves through “just something to do,” until the singer realizes that he won’t “call” and “act like” he “gives a fuck?” The songs melancholy realization is butressed with a longing solo from Scott Roy’s accordion. The situation of unrequited love is painful, and consequentially it produces the best song on the album. The way in which Warren bends tones, in songs she penned, is artful and thrilling. Their music incorporates the best of country and rock, not to mention, the great accordion inclusions. The Great Unknowns have produced a rollicking series of pain, train and American stories. ***Best Album Of the Week***
The first thing to do about a minute into “Presenting The Great Unknowns” is to pick oneself off the floor; having been knocked there by the splendor of Becky Warren’s singing voice. This young woman knows how to sing with feeling, power, subtlety, dynamic range, and sweetness. Nothing against the talented musicians in the band who do a great job on the recording, but face it guys, singers always get the glory and when she is this pretty and this talented, the attention will be on her. All the songs on the CD were written by Becky Warren or co-written by Becky and guitarist, Michael Palmer. The lyrics are undoubtedly her own personal stories of a sensitive girl who has had more than her share of hope and disappointment. The melodies are enchanting and stylistically diverse. There is more rock here, than country, but it goes beyond that. There is an honesty and originality in the sound that is irresistible. With some songwriters it is so damn obvious they set out to write a song of a specific genre, such as “I’m going to write me a country song.” Ms. Warren, however, sounds like she sat down to express her innermost feelings in song and instinctively used the tools in her kit. With a base of Boston rock, she unselfconsciously adds a pinch of Appalachian acoustic here, a dollop of porch-pickin’ over there, throw in a southern accordion, a dash of the blues, mix well with the broken heart of a tender woman (a little bitterness to balance the sweetness of youth,) and you have something very special, indeed. —Bill Grohl
If you ran Robinella’s sweetie-pie voice through a smog of cigarette smoke and a pitcher of vodka, you’d end up with the charmingly ragged cords of Becky Warren, the lead vocalist and songwriter in The Great Unknowns. Although there’s nothing new under the Americana banner, this Boston band’s self-titled debut is a refreshing take on Southern rock. What’s most surprising is how the record didn’t get made in Nashville or Austin, but in the basement of a Beantown dormitory. Warren and her collaborators — Mike Palmer, Andy Eggers and Altay Guvench — made the disc themselves and found some online fame at GarageBand.com. Their break came when one of the disc’s backing vocalists, singer-songwriter Rose Polenzani, played the songs for some industry pals. Enter Indigo Girl Amy Ray who wanted to release the record on her Daemon Records label. In voice, lyric and delivery, Warren’s songs are honest and simple, with a thrilling soulful rawness reminiscent of Lucinda Williams. This rock has well-measured touches of blues, bluegrassy twang and folky sweetness. In song, these Yanks travel many miles — from the snowy Northern winters to Carolina, Tennessee, Abilene, and Las Vegas — picking up plenty of musical souvenirs. The Great Unknowns may be anonymous on the vast commercial highway, but they’ll be stars on your stereo. —Paige M. Travis
Joining an increasingly extensive and rich body of new roots music is this first release by The Great Unknowns, a quartet of seasoned musicians fronted by singer Becky Warren. Warren, who co-writes the songs with guitarist Michael Palmer, has a voice reminiscent of Lucinda Williams’s, but her tones are easier on the ears, and though the Unknowns’ songwriting isn’t as sharp as Lucinda’s (but whose is?), it’s good enough to earn this CD a place on my Americana shelf. With layered, guitar-heavy but understated arrangements and clean production, it’s a sweet listen nearly all the way through. Warren sings these original but quintessentially American tales of lost love and wandering souls in a drily expressive drawl, like an alto Patty Griffin, or a less affected Adam Duritz. You can hear both a pervading sadness and a persevering spirit in her unhurried delivery. The band has a knack for concise, penetrating lyrics: “Since you’ve been gone/My heart is a fist.” “Don’t try to blame it on no one else/You broke my heart all by yourself.” And, from “Something To Do,” a Patty Griffin-like plaint which ought to turn up on the Americana charts: “I’m just something to pass the time when you feel blue/Just something to do.” “Round Hill,” another highlight, has a chorus that climbs into your ear and settles in for the long haul.Of the slower songs, I liked “Don’t Come Home,” sweetly sad with its 6-8 sway, and “Deliver Me Home,” whose angular melody and unexpected minor chords give a nod to The Band. “We’ll Be Okay,” though, doesn’t rise above its lyrical cliches (did we really need another song that goes “We’ll spread our wings and fly away”?). And I wouldn’t have opened the CD with the shambling “Las Vegas.” But overall, the sharp wisdom of the lyrics, the grown-up, straight-ahead power of the music and Warren’s sweet-and-sour vocals make this debut a keeper. —Jon Sobel
With their first album recorded under the Daemon Records label, The Great Unknowns have added another dimension to their country-rock sound. Especially prevalent is a smooth bluegrass twist on “Abilene,” complete with an accordion and skillful mandolin playing by Andy Eggers. It’s interesting that this is the band’s first record for their new label, like starting on a new journey, since a large portion of these songs are about being homesick, or going home, or how great home is. Becky Warren’s vocals are soft and delicate, creating a tremendous sense of longing. The musicians, who have a collective history of revolving through the doors of other bands, have found a voice on this record and will hopefully continue delivering their sweet, edgy country sound. Hallelujah! —Lance Loope
Soulful southern tunes with a lyrical preoccupation with travel, and how it changes both plans and relationships. Lead singer Becky Warren wrote all the songs, and her throaty voice leads the right air of resignation-yet-determination that makes the tracks work. While the band itself can often sound pedestrian and a little too slick for the grit aspired to in the lyrics, overall they create a good laconic groove. It is the small picture that makes The Great Unknowns promising: great vocals, solid rhythm section, and writing that will only get stronger with more experience. In “1000 Miles From Tennessee” Warren sings: “I drove out west to see how it would feel without you/I found an answer in every back road drive.”; by continuing to look in the right places for ideas, this band will do alright. —Mike Wood
We read about this disc in MilesofMusic and then chanced upon it in the used bins of our favorite local CD shop, Albums On The Hill in Boulder, Colorado (we’re not all from Texas here). Released in 2004 by Daemon Records, “Presenting The Great Unknowns” is the first release by this band as an entity. Man, it’s good. Especially if you like the kind of music you hear from Lucinda Williams or Mary Gauthier. Or Lone Justice. Which I do. I can’t figure out why someone would sell this one back. Lead singer and songwriter, Becky Warren, knows what she’s doing. Her voice has that edge which forces the comparisons with Williams and Gauthier. It’s rock-and-roll strong where it needs to be and sweetly mellow on the quieter songs. Michael Palmer shares songwriting duties with Warren and plays guitar as well. Other bandmembers are Andy Eggers (drums, mandolin, backing vocals) and Altay Guvench (bass). The band gets some help from Scott Roy (banjo, accordion, backing vocals; Tyler Wood (organ); Pierce Woodward (banjo); Gian Pangaro (dobro); and Whitney Retallic, Noam Weinstein, Tim Blane, Judy Scott-Clayton, Rose Polenzani on backing vocals. On some tracks, the guitar has a twangy 70′s Southern rock kind of feel – the bass line on “When I Was Your Girl” is reminiscent of “Sweet Home Alabama” but the overall effect is more Lucinda Williams than Lynyrd Skynyrd. The tone, the instrumentation, the voice, the attitude reek of bitter nostalgia and sarcasm. The music got my attention first but then I started listening to the lyrics. And these guys can do that too. The break up songs are the best. And they’re mostly break up songs on this disc. That makes for better music – don’t ask me why. “Something To Do” tells that oh-so-familiar heartbreaking story of a girl who recognizes that she’s “just something to pass the time when you feel blue/Just something to do.” In a very catchy way. “1000 Miles From Tennessee” is a fast-paced declaration of emotional independence. “But I won’t dial your line again cuz it’s always you on the other end / And I’ve heard everything you have to say before.” Ha. Take that. The last song, “We’ll Be Okay,” is a wistful attempt at starting over with a broken relationship. The tone is hopeful yet defeated. A break up song in disguise. According to bass player Guvench, the Great Unknowns currently are spread out along the Eastern Coast but a new disc is in the works. Just don’t know when. —Naomi
The Great Unknowns may not be unknown for much longer. —Steve Morse
Presenting the Great Unknowns is a terrific slice of country and Americana out on Daemon. The band’s fronted by Becky Warren, whose voice is a tool of incision into your inner hope, passion and sorrow.