Flesh & Blood review by John Butler Trio

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  • Released: Feb 7, 2014
  • Sound: 8
  • Lyrics: 7
  • Overall Impression: 8
  • Reviewer's score: 7.7 Good
  • Users' score: 7.1 (15 votes)
John Butler Trio: Flesh & Blood

Sound — 8
John Butler Trio are a relatively well known alternative rock band straight out of Fremantle, Australia. Founded by guitarist and vocalist John Butler back in 1998, it's safe to say this group are no newcomers to the music scene, and thanks to a regular touring schedule and steady stream of new studio material they have been able to attract a noticeable following. John Butler Trio first broke into the mainstream in 2004 following the release of their third album "Sunrise Over Sea," which won the band numerous awards while debuting at number one on the Australian charts.

John Butler Trio also aren't discreet about where they draw their influences from. Their unique sound which has allowed the band to produce several chart topping singles is filled to the brim with raw roots elements. The addition of conga drums, hammond organ, lap steel guitar and banjo are qualities which since the release of "Sunrise Over Sea" have become anticipated factors which draw established listeners back for the next compilation of new material. The music itself isn't groundbreaking, and perhaps that was never the group's intention. Their sound highly resembles that of Mumford & Sons who receive heavy commercial airplay. The largest difference between the two groups is that John Butler Trio sound more relaxed in their recordings. The music doesn't sound forced, and allows the entire album to flow easily, which is perhaps their most important feature.

Unlike the folktronica style of Avicii, John Butler Trio do not have to add house-style synthesizers in order to gain radio airtime, which is a refreshing quality in a modern commercial music scene where the majority of pop artists do not play their own instruments, let alone hold the computer generated noise. John Butler Trio remain in a comfortable groove throughout "Flesh & Blood," and do not attempt any radical changes in sound or add any wild remixes. The entire album is comfortably paced, with plenty of quiet percussion playing, delicate acoustic guitar and soothing vocal melodies spread throughout the entire release.

The overall sound of the album is actually quite standout. The production quality is notable, as it allows each of the different string sections, foot-tapping drum beats and distinct musical arrangements to stand separate, as opposed to blending together into an indistinguishable mush that fails to capture your attention. There were several moments throughout the album where I found myself hitting the replay button, just to have another listen at the intricate piano piece which falls gently behind cascades of acoustic guitar and John Butler's harmonic singing style.

On top of the majority of the vocals, John Butler also handles all of the guitar work on the album. There were moments on the album where I felt as though a dual acoustic arrangement would have really benefited the piece, however Butler's playing style in no way hurts the end product found on the album. As I briefly mentioned earlier, there are no pick grinding chord progressions to be found here; instead Butler knows exactly when and where to allow the guitar to be a predominant feature in the mix, and when the vocal melodies and string arrangements need a chance to take the listener's attention.

Lyrics — 7
John Butler has a commendable singing voice with a moderately strong vocal range, which allows him to hit some impressive high notes at full lung capacity. His performance is soulful and filled with emotion, and can bend almost at will from a high energy, upbeat cut to a melancholy piece with wooing melodies.

The vocal melodies which are implemented throughout the album are put to good use and never overstay their welcome, even though there were times where I found myself wishing John Butler and Bryon Luiters would hold out the note for just a few moments longer. The duo create plenty of memorable harmonies throughout the album, which easily soar about the oftentimes quiet instrumental work.

From a lyrical standpoint, John Butler has some very strong moments and some disappointing ones. While his vocal performance is almost always set at 100%, there are times where I found the lyrics to be a bit lacking. They are not unlike many others found in pop music norms, and at times tend to wear upon the listener. As an example of the lyrics from the album, here are some from "Bullet Girl": "I can't believe what happened here tonight, I know those things I said/ you know those things were not right, Anger coursing through my blood and corroding all my veins, I'm hanging on for dear life/ I'm just trying to find my reins."

Overall Impression — 8
John Butler Trio deliver a refreshing collection of roots-flavored recordings on their sixth studio album, "Flesh & Blood." The band's ability to maintain their signature sound while allowing room for positive growth throughout the past sixteen years is impressive, but not as impressive as their performance here. While the lyrics may not be the most creative, the vocal melodies are top notch and has a solid instrumental section to boot. Any established John Butler Trio fan won't be disappointed with this new effort, any mainstream listen should give this album as spin as well.

5 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I'm really quite liking this new album, but a pretty non-descriptive review. I don't know why you'd compare JBT to Mumford & Sons; very different bands. Not everything to feature the slightest hint of a banjo has to be compared to Mumford & Sons.
    Nero Galon
    Interesting how mine and UG's rating was the same. I'd agree on all points made apart from the Mumford and Sons part. I hear they get a fair amount of mainstream attention in Aus, however in the UK they've had 0 attention. Will be interesting to see if anything comes from this album. Not sure about the US either.
    Not really much mainstream attention as such here in Aus but more the Alternative industry is really popular and flourishing.
    Nero Galon
    That sounds great. Sometimes I wonder about the underground movements here, sometimes I see it and am hopeful whereas most times I don't see anything and continue waiting for something.