Butch Walker & The Black Widows, "I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart"

80 Billboard Rating

Given the online success of his banjo-powered version of Taylor Swift's "You Belong With Me," Butch Walker fans shouldn't be surprised by the power-pop whiz's country-music makeover on "I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart," the follow-up to 2008's soul-infused "Sycamore Meadows." (Walker, the former frontman of late-'90s alt-rock band Marvelous 3, played alongside Swift during her much-discussed performance at the 2010 Grammy Awards.) The vibe on the new album may be rootsier and more acoustic than Walker's usual fare, but it still emphasizes his knack for memorable wordplay and melodic know-how, which have earned him writing and producing gigs with Weezer, Pink and Avril Lavigne. Over a driving bar-band groove on the opener "Trash Day," Walker contrasts life in Nashville, Atlanta and Beverly Hills, while "Canadian Ten" goes the slow-and-low piano-ballad route. But the set's most appealing cut might be the twangy "She Likes Hair Bands," on which he confesses, "I was in one, so it's a little too close to home."

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