The John Butler Trio, hailing from Sydney, brings to the U.S. a moving acoustic sound with socially conscious lyrics. Living, an appropriate title for a live album, was recorded at four separate shows and is considered a snapshot of the band after the release of their 2002 release, Three. The album features songs from their debut Pickapartand Three, along with a bonus studio track, the ironic “Home is Where the Heart Is.” Like Butler’s inspiration for this album, Band of Gypsy’s Live at the Fillmore East, Living is a double CD, clocking in at two in a half hours. The Trio is considered a political explosion, and though I am not convinced that politics and art should co-exist, this appears to be their only flaw. This album makes me long for their entire instrumental album Cronkburger, for their lyrics simply do not live up to the poetry of their raw musical ability.
The baritone and bass in Butler’s guitar is a strong opening for the album, but unfortunately it is followed by some meaningless lyrics: “Hey man why you always give me Attitude / What I ever done to you? / If you got a bone to pick / Step outside step outside talk about it.” “Bone to pick” and “Talk about it” as rhymes should not exist in a song that rocks out as hard as this one. The energy of the live performance is strong through Butler’s finger dance, but the message of the song does not speak to the strength of the musicians’ skills.
In “Earthbound Child,” the searing first pick is cancelled out by the mediocre earth day message of the song: “Come up with the shit I’m the Earthbound Child.” Music is supposed to free people from the constraints of their modern lives, to inspire through its beauty. Butler Trio is exhausting to listen to because the heart and soul of the music lays within the guitar, of which he is a true master. If that could rule the album alone, it would be powerful, but it is countered against by his need to open his mouth and impart some wisdom on the world.
Their messages range from preachy to what I would expect from a Sesame Street jam session. In “Believe,” which makes me a little wary to begin with, we are told: “There’s no need to worry / Run around in your scurry / All you got to do is believe In the Universe.” The angst of a beautiful guitarist is undermined by the infamous “no worries mate.”
“Spring” was one track where the poetry of the lyrics could almost compete with the lyricism of the guitar. The strings of the guitar pull at the strings of your inner sanctum and create a comforting melancholy. “And now love seems somehow a little more meaningful / And I looked at her and I see beautiful.”
Few can compete with the strength of this trio’s jam abilities. Guitar, bass and drums all exist on an equal plane of creating quality music, and in the energy of this live album their skills are truly on display. It is just unfortunate that they felt the need to use the poetry of their music to preach about the world we turn to music to free us from.