Review Summary: Australian jam rock at its best, plus a mix of varied Eastern and Western musical nuances mean that Three is experimental at times, and conventional at others.
John Butler and his trio are arguably one of Australia’s best groups to emerge since the turn of the century. Their style, political stance, musical skill and collective personality are all things which scream talent in its most untreated form. Butler and his two jam mates, Gavin Shoesmith
and Jason McCann
, who formed the trio during 2001, released Three
, three years after their initial self titled stint. The album is certainly JBT’s most raw and possibly best release thus far, considering how it catapulted them into mainstream success.
But Three is much different to the commercially succeeding releases from the band. It’s much more root orientated, and progressive, producing lengthy multi-dimensional compositions with stratums of traditional and blues style instruments. From the didgeridoo, through the Hammond organ, and then on to Butler’s 12 string guitar, the album heralds an excellent blend of a myriad of varied instruments, much more then those just listed. Quality and quantity go hand in hard for Three, and are heard through the performances, which are even better live. Part of this means that the album is treated with a less processed sound that replicates the emotion a jam band discovers under the warmth of halogen lighting and cigarette smoke. It doesn’t sound like it’s been recorded at the local pub ‘round the corner, but it does feel like you might as well have been sitting in the live room with them as they played.
Opening with “Betterman”
, Butler introduces his illusive sliding acoustic guitar, before the band kicks in with a neat head bopping/foot tapping jam. Betterman is atypical of JBT’s sound, that’s best experienced with a beer, during a sunset at your nearest beach, in fact, so is much of the album. So far, it’s classy and totally chilled under ice. The only thing that comes close to civilisation is Butler’s lyrical take on politics and world issues. He and his band members are proactive in this area that makes the listening experience interesting within this style of music. Similar sounding artists such as Jack Johnson
and alike have mainly tackled, or caressed, the love for others, and or just explored general daily experiences, but the trio, like the Midnight Oil
before them, delve into darker and deeper territories, questioning every activist movement that ever was to be during 2001.
A uranium mine, shifty politician, media vulture and incompetent prime minister leave the lips of Butler and travel through fiery air into the lobe of the listener’s ear in the song “Money”
. His lyrics are often accompanied by his amplified 12 string guitar which strangely both resonant, and beautifully dissonant with the rest of the band. But if you are one who tires quickly with complicated political dialogue, don’t worry; there is plenty of material on this to tickle your fancy. “Take”
stirs the air particles with ease through Butler’s impeccable hybrid finger picking, McCann’s muted slapped upright bass, and Shoesmith’s Taiko styled drumming. Take into account the stimulating warmth of Paul Boon
making a guest appearance on didgeridoo, and you have a wonderful composition. It’s matched later by the introspective look at life in “Life Ain’t What it Seems”
, which is a similar cut at what Take pioneered.
The shorter sections of the album, “Pickapart”
and “Earthbound Child”
(only to be found on the U.S. release), are equally opposed in terms of musical approach (one’s energetic, the other measured), but also make for a pleasant experience amongst the progressive walls which tracks like “Attitude”
form earlier on. If however you can’t obtain the U.S. release, don’t fret. Plenty of the material divided amongst the Australian release yields similar results 95% of the time, including the additional track “Foundation”
which concludes the album much better then “Don’t Understand”
does for the U.S. version.
Versions aside though, expect to be swept of your feet if you’ve never experienced the playing style of Butler – his proficiency is matched by his immaculate skill at fusing musical techniques such as Celtic, Indian and Blues, amongst others. Not forgetting the tightness of his co-members providing a high fisted and warm rhythmic backdrop, Three is a near classic for the trio who showcase a closer tie with their rooted interest in pure musicality.