Tuesday, 21 February 2012

John Butler - Port Fairy folkie Official Program

A brief piece on John Butler to run in the 2012 Port Fairy Folk Festival official program, to commemorate his PFFF Artist of the Year Award.

John Butler
Port Fairy Artist of the Year – 2012

Port Fairy Festival Director Jamie McKew told me recently he remembered seeing John Butler supporting The Waifs in the backroom at The Nash in Geelong, more than ten years ago.  “No one knew who he was,” McKew smiled – how things have changed. 

Since that day, and indeed, since the days when Butler first embarked upon his musical journey – busking mainly, a slow and steady beginning – his star has risen.  Risen to heights not often seen in the realms of roots music, a genre (or a collection of genres) before thought, amongst younger circles, to be ‘uncool’ and ‘old’, until the likes of a few came along and turned that notion on its head.  John Butler was one of those few.

It’s because of what Butler has achieved over the past decade or so then, that he’s been awarded the 2012 Port Fairy Folk Festival’s Artist Of The Year.  This is a man who began at the bottom, and through talent, drive and creativity, made it to the top, in the process reinvigorating music and minds alike, ideals and perceptions of roots music, of independent artists, of ways of getting your message out.

“It just has to come from a soulful place at the end of the day, and if it has the opportunity of reaching as many ears as possible, then that’s awesome, that’s a dream come true for me,” Butler himself muses from his studio out West, where mere hours before, he’d happily received news of the aforementioned award.  Butler is also sage on his methods of presenting his ideas, his messages if you will – “I think, of all things, you have to be playful.  If you clutch onto anything too strong, you end up strangling it.”

It’s been this genuine desire to share in such an artistic and subtle way then, that has seen Butler – both solo and in trio format – reach people the world over, come into their lives, enriching them as he’s gone. But in amongst the accolades and the adulation as well, Butler has given back, perhaps most importantly through what was initially known as The JB Seed, now The Seed, “an initiative funded by the music community for the music community”, a true indication that Butler recognises the need for nurturing, particularly given he himself came from such grassroots beginnings. 

“It’s all I know… and I’m really proud of where I’ve come from, how I naturally grew from that place – it’s where I paid my dues,” he tells.  John Butler is still paying his dues (“I feel like I’ve grown… but I feel like my best work is still ahead of me,” he smiles.  “I’m really excited about that.” ), and as such, he’s still exploring, still growing as an artist, still exciting his legions of fans, not to mention himself.

Although Butler is still young, it’s universally recognised that he’s on the path trodden before by the ‘greats’ of Australian music – Paul Kelly, Archie Roach, Jeff Lang, amongst others.  This is a canon of artists revered the world over, and Butler, given his past, seems destined to join them – from little things, big things grow, as Paul Kelly sang, an adage which in this instance, rings clear as a bell.

Samuel J. Fell

Monday, 6 February 2012

Record Review - Lachlan Bryan

Lachlan Bryan
Shadow Of The Gun
Core Music / Sony

Shadow Of The Gun, debut solo record from The Wildes frontman, Lachlan Bryan, has become a much anticipated one on the local scene.  The Wildes’ debut record from a few years ago, Ballad Of A Young Married Man, received very positive reviews (including from your humble scribe) when initially released, and so to have the core songwriter responsible now releasing a solo record, it’s no wonder people are keen for a listen.

Now, it’s hard not to judge a book by its cover, but when first informed Bryan had hooked up with mainstream-ish country musician/producer Rod McCormack (Gina Jeffreys, Troy Cassar-Daley amongst others), I had immediate doubts – whilst McCormack has worked with many artists, underground and cult as well as mainstream, I feared the rawness and dirt evident in Bryan’s earlier recordings would be lost amidst an overly slick production.  My fears were confirmed first up with opener, ‘Unfortunate Rose’, a song more suited for the Country Music Channel than a smoky, Melbourne pub, where Bryan cut his teeth.

However, my fears are soon alleviated, although not entirely.  There are songs on here more than a little reminiscent of Mr. Johnny Cash (Bryan has a marvellously deep drawl when he feels the need), and there are a few that hark to the alt.country scratch we know from Bryan’s previous work.  However, then there are those other tracks – ‘I’d Rather Sing In Churches’ for example – which to me just don’t fit.  They’re too slick, they’re too “country and western”.  Then you get the delightful shimmering guitar of a track like ‘Lily Of The Fields’ and you wonder why it’s not all like that.

So a mixed bag for Bryan’s debut solo effort, strengthened for sure with appearances from both Kasey and Bill Chambers, along with Catherine Britt.  There’s a hell of a lot of potential here, but then we already knew that, which makes me think this record is only half of what it could be.  I await Bryan’s next offering with baited breath.

Samuel J. Fell

Record Review - Joe Robinson

Joe Robinson
Let Me Introduce You
ABC / Universal

Let Me Introduce You is the third album from young (he’s now 20) Australian guitar-slinger Joe Robinson, who of course won reality talent show Australia’s Got Talent in 2008, but who has since gone on to forge a reputation as a consummate and intelligent artist in his own right.

Let Me Introduce You is a very apt title for this record, because despite the fact Robinson has released two previous albums – Birdseed (’07) and Time Jumpin’ (’09) – this is a record of first’s for this prodigious guitar talent.  Initially, it’s a record which features a lot more electric guitar than we’ve heard from Robinson in the past (who I first saw as a solo, instrumental acoustic blues fingerpicking extraordinaire), and secondly (and perhaps more importantly) it’s the first record where Robinson has incorporated vocals.  The verdict?  Perhaps he shouldn’t have.

Being only 20 and a novice vocalist, in a nutshell, Robinson’s voice just isn’t strong enough to showcase at this point.  Not when matched with his guitar prowess, anyway.  Added to this is the extremely slick production that drips off Let Me Introduce You, which when applied to his voice, just makes this come off as a super-produced R&B record – the new school kind of R&B, not the old rhythm & blues kind.  As well, Robinson’s lyrics are hardly likely to set the world afire, but we’ll let that one pass – this is his first crack, after all.

Given all of the above then, Let Me Introduce You isn’t a very strong record.  Save, of course, for Robinson’s guitar.  It doesn’t fit with his voice, but what’s there is incendiary – whether ripping effortlessly along on instrumental opener ‘Lethal Injection’, or riding rainbows on the likes of ‘Adelaide’, it’s all in the right place – shredding when the situation dictates, delicate gossamer when needed.  Joe Robinson is a guitarist first and foremost, and for that, this record is solid.  That voice though, if he wants to continue singing, it has to get tough.  It really does.

Samuel J. Fell