Review Summary: Groovy as all hell, “Three” is The John Butler Trio cleaning up the issues that surrounded their debut and creating a more folk-rock orientated effort.
John Butler started his music career as a busker on the streets of Fremantle, drawing in large crowds with his unique finger-picked playing style, lyrics ripe with a strong political focus, as well as an immense amount of charisma and talent that shone through in every note he played. He soon picked up two more members (Jason McGann on drums and Gavin Shoesmith on bass) and The John Butler Trio was formed, releasing their debut album John Butler
in 1998. The attention the album garnered them was relatively small, though, compared to the mainstream recognition Three
As soon as “Betterman” kicks into its main gear, its obvious what Three’s
core sound is going to be. An energetic folk-rock number, Betterman is Butler crooning about how his wife is too good for him. It firmly establishes him as a force behind the guitar as he moves from a groovy riff to a distorted solo and then back into a head-bopping rhythm. As the album goes on though, it becomes clear that Betterman is actually a relatively poor example of the man’s work. It’s good, make no mistake of that, but he has better. Like his finger-picking during “Pickapart” that truly proves the sheer amount of talent he has stored up his sleeve. His pure acoustic work (as opposed to his usual, vaguely distorted slide guitar) in “Life Ain’t What It Seems” is used in a sweetly melancholic tone that compliments his thoughtful lyrics.
Speaking of lyrics, Butler’s are as strong as his guitar playing. He often presents a person curious about the behaviour of humans around him (Attitude: “Hey man, why you always give me attitude? What I, what I ever done to you?). More than that though, he also has strong political and environmental influences (Money: “Businessman, with your uranium mine, will you gain a conscience? Politician man, they’re in your government, will you gain a conscience?”). He even attacks the catholic church, something which he did scathingly on John Butler
. Here he shows his absolute hatred of the organization with these lines from “Pickapart”.
“I got four Hail-Mary’s hanging over my head
Trying to make me sad everyday
Gonna shoot those little mother******s dead
With my positive artillery”
Having said that, there are holes present; he sinks into mediocrity quite often during “Believe” which comes across as a message towards teenagers to combat depression but ultimately fails. Surprise would not be forthcoming if the people he aimed it at laughed instead of thinking about the message.
“There’s no need to cry
Just hold your head up high
All you got to do is believe”
An issue that plagued John Butler
was the fact that the other members of the trio were ultimately nothing more than a backing band. Evidently something happened in between then and now because not only are they present in every song but they both get their own solos. Far from ruining the album, it adds a depth and variety that was sorely needed. Mcgann and Shoesmith perform exemplarily both when the spotlight is on them and when they’re playing as a part of the band. Shoesmith’s bass lines are groovy as hell (“Pickapart” being a perfect example) and his solo in “Life Ain’t What It Seems” (where he uses a bow on his upright bass) is simply gorgeous. Mcgann meanwhile manages to sustain a 2 minute drum solo in "Take", by continually innovating on a bass and tom driven rhythm while other instruments come and go, including a didgeridoo and traditional Aboriginal percussion sticks. More than that, however, they’re both clearly enjoying themselves. In fact the whole band is, there’s an atmosphere of enthusiasm through most of the album, you can tell the guys are having fun just jamming together.
With Butler’s unique playing style, Mcgann’s creative drum work and Shoesmith’s groovy bass, The John Butler Trio hit their stride and show the Australian public just what they’re capable of. It’s easy to see why this garnered them the acclaim it did, the choruses are catchy and the musicianship is relatively accessible, all without compromising the overall talent of the group. This gave their career a swift kick in the backside, something that only continued with their next effort, Sunrise Over Sea