For a while there, Charles Wesley Godwin was in something of a funk. A typically prolific writer, and one who over his first two critically-acclaimed albums had proven himself to be a reflective and soulful songwriter and singer — a storyteller in the vein of his heroes like Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson and Bruce Springsteen— Godwin found himself in a state of stasis last year. To hear him tell it, he was frozen in place — unable to find the words to what he hoped would become his new songs and under a level of pressure he’d never previously experienced.
And yet, what would ultimately inspire the man was right in front of him all along: family.
“I had to get back to the basics,” says the introspective, self-aware artist of what finally set him and his new songs free. “I decided I was going to write about my life and my family. It’s where my heart was guiding me: to be super personal and dig right into the weeds of my life.” The resulting LP, Family Ties —Godwin’s forthcoming third album, set for release on September 22 via Big Loud Records — is a truly stunning achievement, and the culmination of years of hard work to arrive at this point.
Demo’ed on a Tascam 4-track (thanks to his love for Springsteen’s seminal Nebraska) and then recorded with his bandmate and longtime producer, Al Torrence, at one of his dream studios, Echo Mountain in Asheville, North Carolina, Family Ties is a portrait of home, of relationships, of lessons learned and lived. Perhaps most excitingly, the 19-track release showcases a tunesmith at the peak of his powers — melding melody with memories, workmanship with wisdom.
“All it was was just a matter of time and continued grinding,” Godwin says without hesitation of what he believes has now allowed him to meet this moment — ready to unveil his most intensely personal and accomplished material yet, all while continually playing to some of the biggest crowds of his career.
The songs that comprise Family Ties are themselves portals into Godwin’s life — tuneful tales of the native West Virginian’s friends, family and foundation. Yes, Family Ties is an intensely intimate affair — images set to tune, so many of them specifically created for his own family members. There’s the unflinching “Miner Imperfections,” penned for his father; the mournful and contemplative “The Flood” for his mother; the beatific “Gabriel” for his son (“I guess what I am saying/is I am here to stick with you/if I could I’d never utter a single word that isn’t true”); the mournful yet hopeful “Dance in Rain” for his daughter; and the love letter that is the slow-rolling “Willing and Able” for his wife.
“It feels like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be,” Godwin declares of the fortunate place he and his musical journey have taken him. There’s confidence behind this statement, to be sure, but Godwin can readily admit it was hardly a given he’d ever make it here. Having not taken up the guitar until roughly age 20, and only performing for others when his friends encouraged him one night to do so while studying abroad in Estonia, building his career has been a steady — albeit highly fruitful — climb. He started gigging intensely in the mid-2010s and independently released his stunning debut album, Seneca, in 2019. Like so many musicians however, the pandemic would put a wrinkle in his plans: Godwin explains how he was unable to properly tour behind Seneca and, in turn, couldn’t build up the momentum and fanbase he’d hoped for.
Thankfully, hard work and dedication rarely go unnoticed: when musicians were able to return to the stage, Godwin and his longtime band, the Allegheny High, hit the road behind his second album, 2021’s How The Mighty Fall, and pounded the pavement in a major way. They rarely took breaks from the road, performing every night “as if we were at Madison Square Garden” even when the crowds weren’t always massive. It helped that he had the support of his bandmates: Godwin’s affection for Allegheny High is palpable. “They’re my ride-or-dies,” he says of the Allegheny High. “They believed in me enough to go out on the road with me even when I couldn’t afford to pay a band. Other people aren’t willing to do that.”
“To me, the live show has been the great equalizer,” Godwin continues. “After COVID, we went out there and just played our asses off everywhere all the time, every week. The tour never stopped. And we just built it ear by ear. We were just making this thing grow organically by putting on such a good show with so much heart. Eventually, I got momentum back on my side and just kept on going.”
This trend — building up his fanbase in a grassroots manner and letting the music and live show speak for itself —continues to this day: whether he’s headlining his own rowdy, raucous gigs, or opening for close friend and musical comrade, Zach Bryan, Godwin says his live performances have never been more rewarding. Or lively, for that matter. Perhaps it’s because, as he proudly says, the brand of music he traffics in — namely story songs with a head full of heart and history — seems to be having a true moment. “My shows will range from like 18-year-olds to 80-year-olds,” Godwin notes with a smile of his diverse, highly-enthusiastic and ever-growing fanbase. “That’s a pretty unique thing.”
As for how his life has changed in recent times? Godwin says if anything it’s just become ever even more fulfilling. “There’s a lot more people at my shows and they’re a lot more excited than ever before,” he says with a sense of satisfaction. “I don’t feel like a fish out of water anymore. I had fun when it was just 100 people back in 2021. Now that it’s 10 or 20 times that, it’s just even better.”