As heard on NPR’s All Things Considered, Nashville singer/songwriter Becky Warren’s debut solo album War Surplus relays the affecting, gritty and candid tale of the relationship between an Iraq-bound soldier named Scott and his girlfriend, June.. As the story unfolds, the two meet, fall in love, and struggle to hold it all together when he returns from his deployment a changed man living with the echoes of PTSD. From the record’s award-winning lead track “Call Me Sometime” straight through ‘til the last note, Warren’s potency as a songwriter is on full display, as she weaves a compelling musical narrative rooted in her own life experiences and the rich sounds of Americana and rock & roll.
Part of the reason War Surplus hits with such impact is the very personal, almost autobiographical nature of Warren’s material. Just like the June character she created, Warren married a soldier back in 2005. A week later, he was deployed to Iraq and eventually returned home with PTSD. After four tumultuous years of trying to work through the fall out, they eventually, amicably, split. So while Scott and June are characters, and their story is a fictional account, Warren has the advantage of knowing what it’s really like—of being able to draw from a deep well of personal experience, and it lends the record a powerful authenticity and empathy. A record concerned with real human stories, War Surplus is also refreshingly devoid of political posturing, and deeply respects the experiences of veterans and their friends and family. “The album deals with some heavy themes,” Warren says, “but it was also important to me that it be catchy and fun to listen to.”
Long before Warren struck out on her own as a solo artist, all the way back in 2003, she played in Boston alt-country outfit The Great Unknowns, who signed to Amy Ray’s Daemon Records, toured with the Indigo Girls, and were praised by everyone from Maxim to No Depression. The band released the first of its two albums, Presenting The Great Unknowns, in 2004. But it wasn’t long before Warren’s struggles with her husband’s PTSD led her to take an extended break from music.
Within a month of her divorce, though, she was writing again, and would eventually record a second Great Unknowns album, 2012’s Homefront. Though her old bandmates were now scattered across the country and unable to tour, Warren kept cranking out powerful songs, including “Call Me Sometime,” which won her the 2014 Merlefest Songwriting Competition and the 2015 Kerrville New Folk competition. It’s an impressive feat when you consider the past winners of these contests—career artists like Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett and Gillian Welch.
Warren has been touring widely in support of the release, including a full-band stint opening for the Indigo Girls. She hopes the record will resonate with a wide range of fans while raising awareness about veterans and PTSD.