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Up until now I’ve never been anything more than a casual John Butler Trio listener. However after hearing lead single ‘One Way Road’ several times on the radio and loving it, I immediately snapped up the opportunity to review their latest offering April Uprising. Following on from Sunrise Over Sea (2003) and Grand National (2007), April Uprising is the third consecutive JBT album to debut at #1 in the national ARIA music charts.

Incidentally, the album was named after John Butler’s search to trace his family in series 2 of the Australian version of Who Do You Think You Are? This was a top episode, in which Butler discovered that some of his ancestors were involved in the Bulgarian April Uprising in the 1870’s. If I remember correctly, he also discovered that his great-great-great grandmother lived in Shinbone Alley in Echuca during the Gold Rush years and was married to a Chinese prospector. When he left her alone with several children to raise, she made a living busking in the local pubs. It would seem that being a busker and a revolutionary runs in the family!

Not only did Butler use his experience tracing his family history as the inspiration for much of April Uprising, he also introduced two new band members, Nicky Bomba (drums/percussion) and Byron Luiters (bass) to help forge a new direction. (I don’t think the new direction refers so much to the musical sound, but rather to the inspiration that comes from working with new people and new ideas). All the trademark JBT elements are there though. Comments on social justice, respect for others and the quest for positive change, not to mention catchy rootsy melodies and beats that beg to be moved about to. Listening to ‘C’mon Now’, for instance, makes me think that it’s high time I caught these guys live. I just know they’d be wonderful.

Ok, enough background! How does the album sound, I hear you say? Really bloody fantastic, actually. In the past, JBT albums, as popular as they are with the Australian public, have never fully done it for me. I may like a few tracks but am never able to appreciate the whole album.

April Uprising however, is different. I think what I like the most is its strong opening. The first five tracks in particular are excellent, the quicker uptempo numbers making way for a more mellow, reflective sound that carries through to the concluding ‘A Star Is Born’. I was going to try and get all philosophical on you for a minute there, but I haven’t been able to find the words. Let’s just say that you could interpret this last song as a conclusion to Butler’s journey to discover his ancestors – he’s discovered where and who he comes from, and somehow this has served to make him value and love and appreciate his own family even more. Or maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about. Ahem.

I’ve heard this album described as his ‘most accessible’ album to date and I think there’s a lot of truth in that. While I’ve always recognised the man’s talent for intelligent lyrics and stunning musicianship, I’ve not been able to completely connect with his music until now. Perhaps it’s the collaboration with new people, his search to find his roots or simply the natural progression that comes with age and experience, but for me this is certainly the John Butler Trio’s finest work yet.

Track listing:

1. “Revolution” – 5:05
2. “One Way Road” – 3:06
3. “C’mon Now” – 2:42
4. “I’d Do Anything (Soldier’s Lament)” – 3:21
5. “Ragged Mile (Spirit Song)” – 3:57
6. “Johnny’s Gone” – 4:55
7. “Close To You” – 3:45
8. “Don’t Wanna See Your Face” – 2:43
9. “Take Me” – 5:01
10. “Fool For You” – 5:07
11. “To Look Like You” – 4:19
12. “Steal It” – 3:43
13. “Mystery Man” – 3:55
14. “Gonna Be A Long Time” – 3:46
15. “A Star Is Born” – 4:35

Highlights from the album include ‘C’Mon Now’, ‘One Way Road’, ‘I’d Do Anything (Soldier’s Lament) and ‘Ragged Mile (Spirit Song) and I also really enjoy ‘Don’t Wanna See Your Face’, ‘Steal It’ and ‘Fool For You’.

The John Butler Trio have just embarked on a world tour, hitting up the UK, Europe and the US from April through to June, with a major national tour planned here in Australia in August and September. Check their myspace for dates (there are heaps of them – let’s hope the boys have something left in the tank by the time they return to Oz!) and visit their website to stream or buy April Uprising.

You can also check out an excellent live session recorded in the Hear Ya studios back in February here, along with a video of a live performance of ‘One Way Road’ – it’s a goodie.

I tried to have a stream of ‘C’Mon Now’ available for you, but WordPress is being a rotten so-and-so today and won’t save it properly, so you’ll have to make do with the download of a live performance of ‘One Way Road’ instead. I think you’ll cope.

One Way Road (Live) – John Butler Trio

(Image from the band’s myspace)