Family & Friends
By Mike O’Cull www.mikeocull.com
Country/Gospel artist Tommy Botz tells the heartfelt stories he’s lived out in real time on his new release Family & Friends. The album is about his own struggle with alcoholism and the consequences he faced in its aftermath. In sharp contrast to mainstream country music, a genre that glorifies drinking one’s troubles under the table, Botz aims to use his music to heal the pain of others in the same way it healed him.
Botz took an early interest in alcohol and he was soon living to drink and drinking to live. His dependence progressed and he spiraled downward through broken marriages, lost jobs, and revoked driving privileges, ultimately winding up in jail. Since being set free, Tommy has been sober for 16 years and off the streets for good. He now lives quietly at a halfway house in Ohio, where he “crawled through the doors” on May 3rd, 2004 as a “homeless drunk with nowhere to go.” Somehow, Tommy wrote over 200 songs during all of that and, after several years of good sobriety, he began recording them. Those sessions yielded the six cuts on Family & Friends.
Botz is a more-than-capable writer and vocalist with a smooth, articulate style. “Maggie” opens the record and is its first single. It’s a heart-rending tale of someone so far inside the bottle that he leaves his family behind. It states some unpleasant facts but is ultimately a song of regret and apology. Botz conveys the story with the authenticity of one who has been there and reveals the truth of addiction. It’s a powerful track with an understated grit to it and pulls no punches.
“Could You Be The Girl” is more mid-tempo country gold but with a much more positive vibe. The song speaks to one particular woman who our protagonist is wondering about a future with after many years of life’s ups and downs. Tommy comes across as sincere and ready for this new level of life but needs to hear that she is, too.
Vocalist Rose Marie, who is also Tommy’s fiancé, steps to the microphone for the stirring Gospel song “He’s Coming Back.” She brings a June Carter-ish energy to the track and a beautiful, pure country sound. Rose has been by Tommy’s side for 30 years and she is clearly here to stay. She delivers a classic, sanctified performance here made even better by the record’s crisp production. Marie also appears on the gentle “Teddy Bear,” a song Botz wrote for a fellow inmate at an Ohio prison.
All six tracks here are emotional, well-written, and perfectly recorded. Like all true country artists, Botz is intimately familiar with the life he writes about and unflinchingly speaks his piece. Family & Friends is a brief-but-brilliant set of songs that will reveal themselves to anyone who listens. This one has been a long time in the making but it’s here now. Country and Gospel fans are going to like it a lot. Highly recommended.
LISTEN TO “MAGGIE” ON SPOTIFY: