The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011


John Butler Trio 'Grand National'Australian roots activists return with their fourth long player.

The CLUAS Verdict? 5 out of 10

John Mayer, Roy Harper, Dave Matthews… how you react to that list pretty much determines whether the John Butler Trio are your bag or not.

The John Butler Trio are led by Mr Butler himself. Native of North America, he moved to Australia at age 10. Grand National is the band’s third album and he is credited almost single-handedly with making roots music fashionable down under - roots music being an umbrella term covering  a kind of looping, groovy brand of rock replete with wah-wah guitar solos, banjos, lap-steel and vaguely political lyrics. He preaches peace (man) and has the dreadlocks to show he takes it all very seriously. The opening track (and lead off single in Australia) is the highlight of the album. Better Than is funky, melodic and soars over the rest of the tunes on the album in that it does not sound forced. It is driven by an insistent banjo riff – if you’re going to download a track from the album, make it this one.

Daniella has a vaguely hip-hop feel to it. Butler syncopates his words in some embarrassing take on Dave Matthews. It’s awful. Funky Tonight does exactly what it says on the tin – throwing banjo, harmonica, congas and cowbells together in a messy squall. It works well enough but is followed by the execrable Caroline, a dreadful ballad about child abuse. The lyrics are trite, almost insulting. Poisonously syrupy. The musicianship is of a high standard, including a fabulously jazzy interlude on Gov Did Nothin’. The song is still let down by some entertainingly cack lyrics – “Now I don’t mean to offend / No I don’t wish to start a fight / But do you really think that the gov would do nothin’ / If all those people were white”. Sheesh…

Groovin’ Slowly is Bob Marley-lite. Devil Running up the ante with its opening backwards guitar solo over a droning didgeridoo before the ubiquitous groovy acoustic takes over. The chorus comes over all emo(!).The rest of the record floats by almost by accident.

Stephen McNulty

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