John Butler Trio
Grand National


5.0
classic

Review

by RandyfromPennywise USER (34 Reviews)
April 17th, 2007 | 53 replies | 13,027 views


Release Date: 2007 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The album of the year.

3 of 3 thought this review was well written

After 2004's Sunrise Over Sea, the platform was set for these three fellas to go on to new heights. So when it takes three years to come out with a new album, it's only reasonable to expect a bit. A fair bit. After a couple of years out of the public spotlight, they've produced an album nothing short of exceptional. Not quite flawless, but just about as close to it as you'll see.

John Butler is a talented musician. His ability to write catchy guitar licks is just about as good as any. The difference between this album and Sunrise Over Sea is the consistency. This album is consistent for the entire hour. Consistently brilliant. Now I don’t want to get fan-boyish (I believe this is the term the kids use these days) but this is my candidate for album of 2007, and I have a feeling it will still be come Christmas. Each song has been stuck in my head at some point or another over the past three weeks. The hooks are catchy as hell, the lyrics are beautifully crafted - covering a range of topics - and the musicianship is dexterous.

The innate energy of the former Western Australian busker is central the JBT sound. There is a palpable ‘live’ feeling during the drawn-out instrumentals, and the album has a genuine ‘live’ quality about it - probably a prerequisite from a band often labelled a ‘Jam Band’, but still. The producing and editing appears minimal - it’s raw and unadulterated talent. The lead single, Funky Tonight, has been ‘thrashed’ on Australian radio and in general down here in the Trio’s homeland, and not without good reason. It’s a swinging, bustling tribute to his wife with a memorable opening guitar riff showcasing John’s unique finger-picking style he employs so well on his 11-string 12-string guitar. (Yeah, 11 strings. He removes one so he can solo better. Whatever, it works.) And the feeling that is central to The John Butler Trio is unmistakable on Funky Tonight - you get the mental image of three guys standing on a street corner playing this with their improvised instruments, just doing their thing. While the song is in no way unrefined or coarse, the busker feel comes through in this one. It has a tangible sense of familiarity that few others can emulate. It’s a cracking song, designed to get you funky.

You get the feeling that John Butler is in a good place on Grand National. The lyrics are contemplative but not negative, thoughtful but not overdone and poignant without being forceful. The opener, Better Than, is John’s take on both modern capitalist society and individual struggle. The lyrics are uncomplicated yet undeniably effective. The line (which in the liner notes John admits is taken from a Little Richard interview, of all places) “The grass is greener but just as hard to mow” is one of the lines of the album. The unyielding chorus delivers its message deftly: “…Life’s not about what’s better than. You could be better than that, Don’t let it get the better of you… Life’s not about what’s better than.

The album moves between tender, exposed ballads and funky (for lack of a better word), upbeat ‘jam’ tracks effortlessly, giving Grand National both diversity and a magnetism few other albums have. The tempered Used To Get High confirms the maturity of the album and continues the theme of personal choice, and expands on Better Than with a more personal approach. With one of the most memorable choruses on the album, Used To Get High explains exactly that - that John used to ‘get high’ from many of the vices of Western society.

I used to get high for a living,
Believing everything that I saw on the TV.
I used to get high for a living,
Eating all the bullshit food that they sold me.

I used to get high for a living,
Thinking that my destiny was out of my control.
I used to get high for a living,
There’s lots of different reasons and I tell you so.


Used To Get High is one of the strongest tracks from the album. Gov Did Nothin’ takes the album back to the band’s roots (no pun intended) with an eight-minute jam about government action - specifically, governments not acting to help humanitarian causes but helping war efforts and the like. The lyrics dance around the point (but in a good way) and the slide guitar is used well. This song is quite strange. The first three minutes follow a typical pattern of verse, chorus etc., and then from three minutes to the end there is no singing - not even a reprise of the chorus. It reinforces the ‘live’ feeling. There is a moment where the slide guitar reaches its climax for eight bars or so which is the only moment of unpleasantness on the album. But the instrumental moves between Rock, Jazz, Roots and Blues and probably more to showcase the variety and ability of the three lads.

To highlight the consistency of this album, just as we are getting ready to wrap it up along comes Fire In The Sky at track 12. The Rootsie, slide-guitar driven track is as catchy as anything on the album, and the heavy, unexpected chorus adds yet more variety to the already impressive range. “I don’t understand, how one could kill a man, In the name of peace - that’s ridiculous.” These lines are used impressively throughout the song, and the rhyming of peace with ridiculous is oh-so-cool (…"that’s ridicu-lease"). John uses a lot of irregular tunings on his 12-string, and these tunings have been credited with helping create the distinctive JBT sound. The guitar work is one of (if not) the musical highlights on the album. The introductory guitar lick on Devil Running is one of the catchiest bars of guitar work I've heard in a while. This splendid lick leads in to four minutes largely similar to Fire In The Sky, as the mellow verses are contrasted by the intense, distorted-guitar choruses. The guitar work in the solo is yet again memorable.

Grand National is heavily influenced by John’s love for his wife, who I assume is called Daniella. This love and affection comes through in a number of the tracks, and as a theme it entwines attractively with the political and social commentary. It adds to the feeling of completeness of the album. It covers a lot of issues adeptly, supported by the rich and vibrant sound. There’s not enough time to talk about all the tracks individually - which I could do, but I hate reading long reviews - but each is as deserving as the next. John’s really outdone himself with this one. It’s certainly the best album he and his two amigos have released, and it would take something phenomenally special for this not to go down as his greatest achievement when he hangs up his guitar (or cuts his nails). Really I would struggle to recommend a better album if you are looking for anything in the genres of soft-rock, roots, folk, jam-rock, country, celtic, bluegrass or reggae. Really, it’s that good.



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user ratings (144)
Chart.
3.8
excellent
other reviews of this album
Michael Philp (4)
The trio continue what they started on Sunrise Over Sea with a slightly stronger lean towards rock r...


Comments:Add a Comment 
RandyfromPennywise
April 17th 2007



752 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Yeah I just whipped this out in about 45 minutes, there's a lot of stuff it's missing - like talking about more individual songs, or the range of instruments used (harmonica, strings etc.) but yeah, this is awesome and it needed to be reviewed.

Tracks 1, 3, 6 and 12 are my favourites.

StreetlightRock
Emeritus
April 17th 2007



3761 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Ah, this one was in the works. Damn Uni assignments due tomorrow otherwise i'd have slipped one in here as well. Wicked review for a 45 minute job! I've only listened to the first half of this album, so I can't really comment - I'm just worried he's gotten a tad poppy and not so jamish anymore. And yeah, Funky Tonight is just that.This Message Edited On 04.17.07

Digging: Towers - Bel Air Highrise Plantation

NormanN
April 17th 2007



5 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Great review ,yet you should of described a little more
tracks...(altough you did this in 45 minutes or so)
This is definately a great 2007 album.

Altough I prefer sunrise over sea
my personal favs:

funky tonight (the solo is awesome)
Daniella
gov' did nothin
Devil runningThis Message Edited On
04.17.07This Message Edited On 04.17.07

RandyfromPennywise
April 17th 2007



752 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Steetlight - yeah I've been meaning to review this for a couple of weeks actually, since I bought it. So tonight before soccer training I was like 'stuff it, this needs to be reviewed' so I sat down and wrote one. It's not my best review but yeah at least this has one now.

This is a bit more poppy than it is jammy, but for me that's not really that much of a problem - JBT do poppy jam-rock just as good as jam jam-rock. (Haha Jam Jam Rock.)

EDIT: I just added in some more stuff, talked about Devil Running.This Message Edited On 04.17.07

CockeyedMaverik
April 17th 2007



2 Comments


not a bad reveiw. I think you did a good job of reveiwing the theme of the album and I felt the mood. while you could have described the musical side a bit more you still did a good job. Im familiar with JBT so I got the idea of what you were trying to describe musically anyway. He does just have the catchiest guitar riffs that you cant help but loving and im expecting a lot now. (finally making some money. im going to go buy it after reading this, i refuse to DL)

CushMG15
April 17th 2007



1802 Comments


I've not yet heard this, but JBT is amazing. Three stands as one of my favorite cds of all time.

RandyfromPennywise
April 19th 2007



752 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

It's a real shame that more people aren't aware of this. If you are reading this and haven't heard this, download it right now or buy it tomorrow.

StreetlightRock
Emeritus
April 19th 2007



3761 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Not enough aussies on this site =(

RandyfromPennywise
April 19th 2007



752 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Damn, damn, damn straight! Aussie music is massively neglected here.

samthebassman
April 26th 2007



2164 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Great review, Great album, Fire In The Sky is possibly the best song written this year.

Shiftyly
April 27th 2007



82 Comments


the living end and now this. Australia has just moved up in my book past england

RandyfromPennywise
May 1st 2007



752 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

HAHA England wins on volume, but yes this is masterful.

dub sean
May 16th 2007



980 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

this album is def a classic (5) for me
review was nice, ya beat me to it...probably betta than mine woulda been anyways

RandyfromPennywise
May 16th 2007



752 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Cheers there Djs, and yes this album is brilliant. Got my ticket for their show in late August on Friday, should be great. They are one of the few Aussie bands that has slipped past me in terms of seeing them live. Same as Grinspoon and Powderfinger. Most other Aussie bands I like I have managed to see live (Living End, Pete Murray, Xavier Rudd, Frenzal, Bodyjar, Blue King Brown, Silverchair, The Beautiful Girls etc etc.) Guess AC/DC and Crowded House should go on the to-see list!

dub sean
May 17th 2007



980 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

you sound pretty cool RandyfromPennywise. I love Living End & Grinspoon is decent. I got a ticket for May 27, it's my first time seein JBT, and I know they are mind-blowin live.

dub sean
May 17th 2007



980 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

oh and nice review I didn't notice you did the review!

RandyfromPennywise
May 17th 2007



752 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Haha yeah I did the review. Yeah I can't wait to see them, heaps of my friends have seen him before so I hope he lives up to how good they say he is! I'm sure he will though, he's very talented, especially at playing some crazy guitar riff while singing and things like that. Where are you seeing him in two weeks' time?

samthebassman
May 17th 2007



2164 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

I have seen him 3 times, gets better everytime!

RandyfromPennywise
May 17th 2007



752 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Yeah I can imagine, some of the guitar work on Grand National is the best of any record. I hear that the drummer and the bassist are equally as talented on their instruments as well which all bodes well for amazing live performances, August 25 is going to be sick!

samthebassman
May 18th 2007



2164 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Yep, they are hella tight!

Last time I saw em they were using "betterman" as their jam song, with each of them having massive solo's, pretty cool.



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